"Return to Order" by John Horvat ll, published by the American Society for Tradition, Family & Property. Available from the Australian TFP: (02) 9715-2324 firstname.lastname@example.orgTradition Family Property. Reviewed by John Morrissey.
Return to Order: from a Frenzied Economy to an Organic Christian Society is a beautifully presented work, with a depressingly accurate analysis of what is amiss with the US economy and society, and presumably the whole Western world. The author, John Horvat II's, label for this condition is 'frenetic intemperance', referring to consumerism, fads and fashions, a stirring up of markets and a battering down of restraint and self-control. He likens it to a cruise ship hosting a never-ending party, heedlessly heading for ruin in the storms ahead. The alternative which he advocates is a return to an idealised model, based on his conception of what reigned in Medieval Christendom. A prescription for what must be done to avoid ruin concludes his thesis, and readers are left to judge whether it is at all practicable in our virtually post-Christian world.
Temperance is a virtue whereby man governs and moderates his natural appetites and passions in accordance with the norms prescribed by reason. It is actually an ideal inherited from the ancient Greeks, whose every tragic play punished the protagonist who disregarded it. Horvat compares intemperance in an economy to a car without adequate brakeing or to drug addiction, leading to alternating periods of frenzy and depression. He dates the beginning of the crisis of today to the Renaissance and the Industrial Revolution, the former bringing proto-capitalism and the latter a massive infrastructure necessary for mass production and economies of scale. These developments caused financial and social upheaval and led to the dream of a material paradise, relegating religious and moral issues to the periphery. In fact, everything here retraces the steps of Pope Leo XIII's encyclical, Rerum Novarum (1891).
Of course Horvat is able to survey the course of events throughout the C20th, leading to the present crisis. He deplores standardisation, of both products and consumers, with the illusion of unlimited choice pandering to fads and crazes. This was accompanied by a tearing down of restraints which had stabilised pre-industrial society, such as the guilds and local customs. Immense global networks of finance, resources, shipping and communication he regards as 'neurological choke-points', making the whole system fragile, as it is vulnerable to unethical control or to sabotage by terrorists.
Mass media and technology also ramp up expectations and contribute to the decline of individual moral responsibility, in a mechanistic outlook on the world as a machine, rather than an intelligible universe. Horvat refers to advertising as 'marketing dissatisfaction'. He states 'that freedom is the ability to choose the means to a determined end perceived as good and in accord with our nature', which is the antithesis of what is meant by post-modern individualism. One hears the echoes of Aldous Huxley's Brave New World and George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four time and again in his litany of lament for what has been lost, which he sums up as an 'absence of the sublime' under the rule of money and markets.
In the United States of the past the author sees two Americas, the co-operative union and the one embracing vague notions of God and family, and capable of self-sacrifice, as we saw in its stand against Communism in the C20th. Now he sees this union in danger of shattering in the face of dangerous socialist and ecological forces, and calls for an 'organic socio-economic order taken from our distant past and adapted to the future'. For this there is need of the soul, which requires returning to the principles which brought a Christian order, that is, those of the medieval Church.
In essence, the organic state which Horvat envisages embodies subsidiarity. Instead of an all-powerful bureaucracy, it safeguards the principles of morals, civilisation and public order that are normally preserved by family, guild, town, university and numerous other social associations. While citing the distinction between the spiritual and temporal orders, he rejects the [US] liberals attempt to restrict the Church's role to private worship, and totalitarian regimes attempts to capture her as an organ of the state, and insists on her role of safeguarding the moral order. This of course involves public life, for example in the fields of legal and social justice. Her role in the economy also involves providing social capital and the charity which binds us to social ends, that is the common good, rather than the exclusive pursuit of power and riches. If the Church is inhibited in this role today, it is because 'dissent has gone from selfcriticism to self-destruction', in the words of both Popes Benedict XVI and Paul VI.
In his passion for his theme, Horvat is perhaps rather too idealistic in his picture of medieval society, and closer to it in theory than practice, with evidence from devotional works for example, rather than feudal rolls. An exhaustive bibliography is provided, but he draws heavily on the ideas of a couple of authors, such as Johann Huizinga. The book is beautifully illustrated to show how the art of the period reflects the organic nature of a society, linking mankind with the Creator and the new Covenant of Christ and his Church, and also the temperance evident under this order. Nothing is shown of those who lived and died in abject poverty in the countryside or of the wars among Christians which made life even worse for the common people. Nevertheless, each person knew his or her place in the world, with the security of a simple faith, closer to that of St Francis rather than St Thomas Aquinas. He turns to the simple words of the Anima Christi prayer, by the C16th St Ignatius Loyola, to sum up this faith.
When we reach the author's advice on how we can act to
return to this organic social and economic order, we may be
disappointed in its modest but realistic scope:-
1. Identify those areas where we are affected by frenetic intemperance and adjust our lives accordingly.
2. Explore those ways in which we can apply the principles of an organic order to our personal lives.
3. Understand the crisis and engage in the debate over the nation's future.
4. Rise to the occasion and rally around the standard of an organic Christian order.
Who will provide the leadership, however, the critical mass needed for a fightback, here or in the United States? When the danger was far less apparent in the early decades of the C20th we had luminaries like GK Chesterton sounding the alarum and appealing to similar values. Here in Australia we had the National Catholic Rural Movement, seeking to implement the principles of Rerum Novarum. We also had a Church triumphant, full of confidence and vitality, flushed with vocations to the religious life, and not cowed by the Human Rights industry and dependent on government funds to carry out its role in society.
John Horvat II is making a big call for a return to order. He leaves us with the path of the Prodigal Son: we have erred and must long for our Father's house, clash with our misguided culture, and respond to our Father's love.
John Morrissey, our reviewer, is a retired secondary school teacher.