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Friday, August 04, 2006

Part IIB:Problems with Capitalism

"The power which money gives is that of brute force; it is the power of the bludgeon and the bayonet." William Cobbett

"We learn from our gardens to deal with the most urgent question of the time: How much is enough?" Wendell Berry

"A small number of very rich men have been able to lay upon the teeming masses of the laboring poor a yoke little better than that of slavery itself" (Rerum novarum, n. 3).


St. Thomas distinguishes between two kinds of wealth: natural and artifical.(II-IQ.2.1) Those goods described as natural wealth, such as food and shelter, satisfy the needs of nature while artificial wealth refers to money, only valuable as a medium of exchange for acquiring natural wealth. According to St. Thomas, the danger of greed is inherent to artificial wealth. He says: "The desire for natural riches is not infinite: because they suffice for nature in a certain measure. But the desire for artificial wealth is infinite, for it is the servant of disordered concupiscence, which is not curbed, as the Philosopher makes clear (Polit. i, 3). "(ibid., ad.3)

Aristotle also distinguishes between the natural art of wealth-getting, which is a part of household management, and the unnatural art of wealth-getting, or retail trade. The former aims at providing for the comfortable maintenance of the family, or household. Again, it is limited by the finite needs of the home. Retail trade, on the other hand, aims at profit. According to Aristotle: "Of everything which we possess there are two uses: both belong to the thing as such, but not in the same manner, for one is the proper, and the other the improper or secondary use of it. For example, a shoe is used for wear, and is used for exchange; both are uses of the shoe. He who gives a shoe in exchange for money or food to him who wants one, does indeed use the shoe as a shoe, but this is not its proper or primary purpose, for a shoe is not made to be an object of barter. The same may be said of all possessions, for the art of exchange extends to all of them, and it arises at first from what is natural, from the circumstance that some have too little, others too much. Hence we may infer that retail trade is not a natural part of the art of getting wealth; had it been so, men would have ceased to exchange when they had enough."(PoliticsIX) Retail trade is problematic because it obscures the primary purpose of goods using them for the end of profit, which is understood as the acquisition of coin. In an economy based on retail trade, people come to confuse artificial wealth with real riches, and direct their household toward the accumulation of coin rather than those goods which satisfy a natural need.

With their distinctions, Aristotle and St. Thomas anticipated the rampant consumerism of our present system. Free market capitalism depends heavily upon artificial wealth and retail trade. Our previous Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, said: "It would now be helpful to direct our attention to the specific problems and threats emerging within the more advanced economies and which are related to their particular characteristics. In earlier stages of development, man always lived under the weight of necessity. His needs were few and were determined, to a degree, by the objective structures of his physical make-up. Economic activity was directed towards satisfying these needs."(Centesimus Annus, 36) Now, we are assaulted from every direction by advertisements stirring up excessive desires and fabricating false needs. In this environment, spiritual goods quickly recede from cultural consciousness, replaced by the all-engrossing pursuit of material possessions.

Click Here for Part III


Anonymous rjp said...

In, Rosary Kevin Orlin Johnson discusses the Church's condemnation of all sports from football to checkers as discord, contention and strife and claims the Church tried to suppress sports from the earliest days of Christianity and was quite successful until the Marxist Revolutions of 1848. Capitalism claims greed and pride as virtues but clearly competition in the capitalist system is a euphemism for the vices of discord, etc, also. Have you given any thought to the free market in these terms? I have the sense that seeking the "best" price for something also is a species of discord and contention.

4:42 AM  
Blogger Raindear said...


I was not aware that the Church had ever condemned sports altogether. Does Kevin Johnson reference any documents? I would be curious to read the reasons. It might shed further light on this subject.

10:00 AM  
Anonymous rjp said...

No specific references. He says, Augustine, Tertullian, and Novatian preached against sports. In the Middle Ages preachers and lawmakers unanimously condemned it. By the time of Aquinas it was regarded as an aberration, a violation of Christian principles, as sin. Excellent boo by the way.

6:17 PM  
Blogger Raindear said...


That is very curious. I will have to look into it further.

1:14 PM  
Blogger Iacobus said...

Very, very, curious.

7:57 AM  
Blogger Raindear said...

Hi Iacobus,

I hope your new job is going well!

Yes, it is very odd. Some traditionalists argue that competition is contrary to femininity, so women should not play sports or even games, but this is the first time I've encountered the idea that all competition is wrong. I have a feeling that both those positions are a bit extreme. There are, of course, many sports entirely unsuitable for women and fierce competitiveness strikes me as generally unladylike. However, I am not convinced that ALL sports are contrary to femininity and I certainly think games are acceptable, as long as one does not cultivate a cutt-throat spirit of competition.

As to the second position, I have not found any evidence for or against. Many early sports(medieval melee,chariot racing,rattan combat) served as a preparation for battle and involved grave physical danger. I wonder if the inordinate violence sparked a universal condemnation...but that still doesn't explain checkers...I wonder if that can be true.

I am inclined to think not. St. Thomas and Aristotle both speak of the virtue of eutrapelia, which moderates playful activities and games.(ST.II-II.168.2)

3:04 PM  
Blogger Iacobus said...

Its sort of a mix between quaint and impressive - those guys were so holy they could worry and preach about issues like that. I bet if any of these purported sports sermons exist, they'd be ever so much fun.

I've always been conflicted by the lady-sports stuff too. Clearly the immodest things ought to be dealt with, but I'm not sure where to draw the line. On those occasions when I'm offended by some particularly gross abomination, I think they all should go. I wonder if the worst part of the gender-bending is that its so hard to tell what the proper balance is anymore, now that we've lost our sense for it.

1:53 AM  
Blogger Raindear said...

Very true. Earlier in the year, I read some of Hildegaard von Bingen's revelations about healing, and they were both edifying and amusing. Her remedies often end with the caveat,(I paraphrase)"and if God wills it you will surely get better, unless you die."

I appreciate your sentiments wholeheartedly - a few years ago, some rugby playing acquaintances related their traumatic experience of observing a female rugby game! Since we know longer have a cultural point of reference, perhaps it is better to err on the side of caution in these matters.

2:44 PM  

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