Thursday, March 16, 2017

The Logic of Empire

“Consumption,” as Adam Smith declared in The Wealth of Nations, “is the sole end and purpose of all production.”  This makes sense, for if something has not been produced, how can it exist to be consumed?  And why produce something if it is not intended for consumption?
"Consumption is the sole end and purpose of all production."
Thus, in order for something to be consumed, it must first be produced, and for something to be produced, it must be intended for consumption.
Apart from charity, there are only two ways to consume.  Either people produce something for their own consumption or to trade to others for what others have produced, or they take what they want by force.
And that, in sum, is the logic of empire.
It has been said with a great deal of truth that all wars are economic.  It has also been said with equal truth that all wars are religious . . . which is easier to understand than saying all wars are philosophical.
This, too, makes sense, for why would anyone willingly go to war except to gain some material advantage or prevent some material disadvantage?  And why would anyone either harm others or defend himself if his faith or philosophy did not condone or encourage it?  All wars are therefore just at the natural and the supernatural level — to those who engage in them.
If all wars, up to a point, are economic and religious, so too are all empires.  If they were not, they would not be empires.
Webster: "Power naturally and necessarily follows property."
“Empire” means to have power, that is, control over others, and control over property is the surest way to control people.  “Power,” as Daniel Webster noted, “naturally and necessarily follows property.”  And where control by property fails, control by faith can usually be relied on.
The term “empire,” in fact, comes from the Latin verb imperare, “to command.”  “Emperor” comes from imperator, “commander,” and signified “one worthy to command Romans,” an accolade that originally could only be bestowed by Roman soldiers on someone who had led them into battle.
To explain, there are, in general, three ways in which human society can be arranged, economically speaking.  Confusing matters, these are endlessly subdivided and often overlap, and go by as many different terms as human ingenuity can devise.  At the end of the day, however, one of the three ways predominates, and that — usually — determines the degree to which a society can be termed just.
The first type of society is the one held as ideal by the major faiths and philosophies of the world.  This form of society is based on the inherent, natural dignity and sovereignty of the human person under God.
The fundamental principle in this first type of society is that every person should have the equal opportunity and access to the means to be productive, for that is the most effective way of securing the natural rights of life and liberty.  Since labor, land, and technology are all productive, every individual has the natural right to be an owner of labor, land, and technology.
"Induce as many as possible of the people to become owners."
This, in turn, requires that every individual have the equal opportunity and means to own whichever one or all of the factor(s) of production can produce most efficiently and effectively, both with respect to one’s self and in conformity with the demands of the common good.  As Pope Leo XIII summarized this principle in 1891 in his landmark encyclical, Rerum Novarum,
Nature itself would urge him to this. We have seen that this great labor question cannot be solved save by assuming as a principle that private ownership must be held sacred and inviolable. The law, therefore, should favor ownership, and its policy should be to induce as many as possible of the people to become owners.
Some call this ideal “the Distributist State,” from the vague proposals put forth by Gilbert Keith Chesterton and Joseph Hilaire Pierre René Belloc.  Another term is “the Just Third Way,” from the more specific program developed by the Center for Economic and Social Justice (CESJ).
The second type of society is one that corrupts, even perverts the natural law principles of the first type.  People may pay lip service to the fundamental principles of life, liberty, and private property, but do not (as a rule) consider a society characterized by widespread capital ownership anything other than an impracticable idea.  Capital ownership must be concentrated in order to make the system work.
This is capitalism.  Although the term is relatively new, the reality has been around from the dawn of civilization.
There are as many specific justifications for this type of society as there are people.  In reality, however, there are only two justifications.
When human labor is the predominant factor of production, the rich and powerful justify human chattel slavery on the grounds that “those people” either are not really human and therefore do not have natural rights, or they are inferior humans and need others to take care of them.  When land or technology is the predominant factor of production, the two justifications are tailored or edited to fit the new circumstances.
The third type of society is a reaction against the second type.  This type of society does not merely pervert or corrupt the natural law principles of the first type of society, adherents claim to abolish them completely.
Rights are no longer believed to be inherent in each human person by nature.  Instead, the theory is that rights are vested in humanity in general, and delegated to actual people as deemed necessary or expedient by those in power.
"The Soul of the Hive."
This is socialism, what Chesterton called “the Soul of the Hive.”  Socialism is another relatively new term applied to something as old as civilization.
In socialism, no individual has a right to life, liberty, or private property, except as permitted by the collective, whatever form it takes, and whatever it is called.  Ultimately, the State owns everything and everybody.
True empire is impossible under the first form of society, one in which capital ownership, and thus power, is widely distributed and the dignity and sovereignty of the human person under God is respected.  Consequently, the two forms of empire conform to the capitalist and the socialist economic models, and thus loosely to the two ways of consumption.
In the capitalist form of empire, imperium is extended over new territories and peoples to control production.  This form of imperialism often requires military force, although absorption by more peaceful means is preferred.  It is not profitable to kill the sheep one expects to sheer.
War is expensive and, while loot can make it profitable, trade and taxation are much more profitable in the long run.  With significant lapses, the Roman and the British Empires conformed more or less to the capitalist imperial model.
In the socialist form of empire, imperium is extended in order to appropriate what belongs to others.  This form of imperialism always requires military force, for peaceful means usually leave some measure of wealth in the hands of the original owners so that they can continue to be productive and be sheered repeatedly, rather than slaughtered for a one-time meal.
Consequently, the socialist form of empire is usually stagnant technologically, often relying on importing or pirating technology from outside, as well as requiring frequent infusions of cash.  This is because unless a concerted effort is made to encourage innovation (as in the Soviet Union), production tends to decline.  Even then, the results are often disappointing compared to a capitalist society or one in which capital is broadly owned.
In consequence, the socialist form of empire must expand, and it must expand by conquest, not by trade or treaty.  Only by taking what others have produced can a socialist empire make up for its failure to produce adequately or, in some cases, at all.
Alexander the Great as a god (Herakles)
The very survival of a socialist empire depends on being able to expand continuously to make up the productive shortfall.  When a limit is reached, the empire begins to decay and finally implodes.  The empires of Alexander the Great (who evidently didn't learn anything from his teacher Aristotle) and the Ottoman Turks were examples of this second type.
Regardless whether it is capitalist or socialist, however, the logic of empire is contrary to the philosophy of the three great Abrahamic religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.  These are Aristotelian.  That means there are absolute moral standards, the natural law written in the hearts of all men.
Being based on human nature created by God as a reflection of His own Nature, the natural law can be discerned by reason, and reason is the foundation of faith.  As the three great Medieval Aristotelians, Thomas Aquinas, Moses Maimonides, and Ibn Khaldûn, agreed, right and wrong depend on what makes sense.  In the Aristotelian framework, law is reason, lex ratio.
For those who break with Aristotelian philosophy, however, faith without reason becomes the order of the day.  And that changes everything.
Aristotle, Alexander the Great's tutor.
For an Aristotelian, regardless how good something might appear — even if it is believed with the utmost fervor and unquestioning faith — if it contradicts reason, it is thereby contrary to nature and is wrong.  All things, without exception, are subject to the natural law.
For an anti-Aristotelian (to coin a term), something need only be held with great faith to be true.  Where for the Aristotelian the content of the natural law discerned by reason determines what is right and wrong, for the anti-Aristotelian faith in what is right and wrong determines the content of the natural law.  All things become subject to the will of the strongest.  The will (subjective faith) triumphs over the intellect (objective reason).
With the triumph of the will, might makes right.  Without any objective standards of right and wrong, whatever someone with enough power can justify becomes right; pure moral relativism reigns.
Moral relativism breeds socialism and vice versa, if for no other reason (as Lord Acton noted) than power tends to corrupt, and absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely.  All other principles, even the doctrines of religion, are subordinated to personal opinion.
And that changes the rules of the game.

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