Zadok the Texan

38 So Zadok the priest, Nathan the prophet, Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, the Cherethites, and the Pelethites went down and had Solomon ride on King David’s mule, and took him to Gihon. 39 Then Zadok the priest took a horn of oil from the tabernacle and anointed Solomon. And they blew the horn, and all the people said, “Long live King Solomon!” 40 And all the people went up after him; and the people played the flutes and rejoiced with great joy, so that the earth seemed to split with their sound. (1 Kings 1:38-40)

As my wife and I have been telling people that we intend to name our son Zadok, it has become apparent that most our friends are rusty on certain sections of their Old Testament. It seems too that they’re rusty on their Handel and their British coronation anthems, but neither of us knew about those connections either until we started googling around the name ‘Zadok’ to see what we could see. To knock off some rust and to include as many people as we can in our hopes and prayers for our son, I thought it would be good to write out a summary of who Zadok was and how we see the name functioning for our son.

The Hebrew name ‘Zadok’ translates to English as ‘righteous’ or ‘justified,’ and there are a few Zadoks in the Bible. Jesus has a Zadok in his lineage (Matt. 1:14), and there are a number of Zadoks who return to Jerusalem with Nehemiah after the exile in Babylon (Zadok, son of Baana, in Nehemiah 3:4; Zadok, son of Immer, in Nehemiah 3:29; and Zadok the scribe in Nehemiah 13:13).

The Zadok we hear most about in Scripture, though, is Zadok the son of Ahitub. He is a member of the tribe of Levi and is one of the Aaronites who flock to David in Hebron in order “to turn the kingdom of Saul to him, according to the word of the LORD” (1 Chronicles 12: 23). After Saul is killed, David is installed as king of the tribe of Judah and rules in Hebron but he is not yet king over all Israel. He was anointed king while Saul was still alive, but there is a long war between the house of Saul and the house of David, and even after Sauls death, it takes seven-and-a-half years for David to consolidate power and receive the throne which God promised him. During those seven-and-a-half years, some Israelites who weren’t of the tribe of Judah heeded the word of the Lord to David and made a covenant with him that he should be their king. Zadok was among these Israelites and the Chronicler describes him as “a young man, a valiant warrior,” and describes this group more generally as “men of war, who could keep ranks, [who] came to Hebron with a loyal heart” (1 Chronicles 12:28; 38).

During David’s reign, Zadok serves alongside Abiathar as one of the priests (2 Samuel 8:17). We don’t hear much about him until David’s son Absalom attempts to steal the kingdom away from David. Absalom gains the hearts of the men of Israel and David has to flee Jerusalem. Again, loyal Israelites flock to David the shepherd-king (2 Samuel 5:2), and they form a procession as they leave the city. Not only does Zadok show up again at this point, but he brings all the Levites and the ark of the covenant with him.

Recall that Uzzah died because of his improper handling of the ark when the ark was entering Jerusalem (2 Samuel 6:1-8). It is a weighty thing to decide that the ark needs to be moved without a word from God. But God’s wrath breaking forth against Uzzah in the past does not deter Zadok from action. He knows that he has been ordained to serve at the ark, he trusts that God has been clear in what he’s said about how to handle it reverently, and he’s courageous to act on this confidence. In his loyalty, Zadok is eager to honor the Lord’s anointed, and he thinks it’s only fitting that if the rightful king is leaving the city, then the place where God dwells ought to go out too. David disagrees as to the fittingness of this move, tells Zadok to return to the city with the ark, and David entrusts himself to the Lord. David knows that if he finds favor in the Lord’s eyes he will return to his city (2 Samuel 15).

As it turns out, the Lord has Zadok play a pivotal role in David’s return. Having been left behind in Jerusalem, Zadok the priest becomes Zadok the spy. He listens for Absalom’s plans and then sends his son as a runner to communicate those plans to David. The king receives this intelligence in time to move his camp and regroup at a town across the Jordan River. Absalom follows his father across the river and is killed in the ensuing battle (see 2 Samuel 15-18).

This would have perhaps been enough for one man’s story, but it is not the end. Some time later, another of David’s sons tries to seize the throne. Some who were loyal to David in the last rebellion are convinced away from their loyalty. Zadok remains faithful. Abiathar the priest, who had been a brother priest with Zadok for years and who had acted with Zadok as a spy for David, is persuaded to join with the rebellion. David’s son has recruited David’s priest and the commander of his armies, Joab. This looks bad, but it is the scene directly before the majestic coronation verses quoted at the start of this post. To fight this rebellion, David has Zadok anoint Solomon as king over Israel. The people who had been broken up in factions receive this appointment with gladness: “the people played the flutes and rejoiced with great joy, so that the earth seemed to split with the sound” (1 Kings 1:40). Solomon the Son of David receives the kingdom from his father. The people put aside their rebellion to receive their king. And heaven and nature sing.

Zadok recognized David as the Lord’s anointed as early as Hebron, and never wavered in his devotion. God had promised that David’s son would be God’s own son, and that this son—Solomon—would build a house for the name of the Lord (2 Samuel 7). Zadok anointed this Solomon as king and was the priest during the time of the construction of Solomon’s temple. The Lord had cut a covenant with David and his line. Zadok rejoiced in this and kept his “loyal heart” till the end.

It may be obvious by this point why my wife and I want to name our son Zadok. We want Zadok the Texan to be like Zadok the priest in a number of ways.

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This piece features the Hebrew of Song of Songs 6:3, which translates to “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.” Liana made this for me for my birthday last year. She continues to fill our house with wonderful things.

First, we want our Zadok to be a priest like his namesake. By this we mean that we want him to serve Christ as Zadok the priest served at the tabernacle, and then at the temple. That is, we want him to be a servant and friend of the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus is both the temple rebuilt and the heir of the throne of David, and so devotion, service, and friendship are appropriate for his priests. We want our Zadok to play the flute and rejoice with great joy because Jesus the Son of David is seated at the right hand of the throne of God, and we want him to lead other people into this rejoicing as well. We want him to have an eager loyalty to the Lord, courageously hearing the word and doing it.

Second, we want our Zadok to receive the best of what we have to pass on to him and to reject what is useless. To be a priest, the first Zadok had to be a Levite. The Levites were descended from Levi. And Levi was a violent man. When his dad died, his dad’s last blessing to him was to curse his anger (Genesis 49:7; 28). Generations later, though, the descendants of Levi are designated the priestly tribe because of their violence. They’re zealous for the Lord and in the face of Israel’s idolatry with the golden calf, it is the Levites who take up their swords against their brothers and kill three thousand men from among the people (Exodus 32:25-29). Some time later, a descendant of Levi and ancestor of Zadok named Phineas saves the people of Israel from the wrath of God by running his javelin through the middles of a couple of idolatrous fornicators (Numbers 25). Generations later, Zadok was a priest and a warrior like his fathers and he had to learn how to be the right kind of violent. In his opposition to idolatry, he had to learn how to be zealous with the zeal of God, how to be like Phineas. In his anger, though, he should not sin. He should not become violent like Levi, bringing the curses of his fathers upon him.

Of course, we Richmonds are not Levites. But these things go along with what it means to be a man. Men must learn how to wield their strength. They must never compromise with evil or tolerate wickedness, and they must not give themselves over to their fighting spirit such that they are animated by their own zeal instead of the Lord’s. We want our Zadok to be dangerous to his enemies, and to learn to control and aim his powers so that he will be—at the same time—a valiant warrior and a gentle Christian. We also want to raise him with the ability to discern what is good and right about his own past, and what needs to be improved upon or rejected. We want him to receive his lineage with gratitude because it is a witness to him of how the Lord has been faithful to his family long before he was on the scene. And we want him to evaluate what he receives from us with a view toward refining it and passing on a more concentrated dose of faithfulness to his own sons and grandsons.

And this brings us to the third and final reason we decided upon such an unusual name: Zadok the priest was not only faithful himself, but he raised faithful sons who continued in the best of what it meant to be a priest in Israel. Generations after Zadok lived, we see the sons of Zadok appointed as the priests who are sanctified to serve in the sanctuary of the Lord because they had not gone astray like the rest of Israel and the rest of the tribe of Levi had gone astray (Ezekiel 48:11). Among the Levitical families, Zadok’s line alone remained faithful to the Lord, not veering to the right or to the left. We hope that the Lord will cause such faithfulness in the sons and daughters of our son for generations to come.

This is a lot to hope, so we have much prayer and much work to do. As always, it’s ora et labora. And though we hope he will out do us in all things, we hope to make it as hard as we can to be outdone.  Toward that end, we continue to rejoice with great joy at the life that has been entrusted to us, and we can’t wait to meet him.

Journal Entry from Varykino

Doctor Zhivago flees Moscow to escape the worst of the revolution in early twentieth-century Russia. He and his family find a place in the country near the village of Varykino where they can wait out the Bolshevik violence, uncertainty, and poverty. His family reads the same few novels and plays over and over again to each other in the evenings, and he keeps a journal:

I should like to be of use as a doctor or a farmer and at the same time to be gestating something lasting, something fundamental, to be writing some scientific paper or a literary work.

Every man is born a Faust, with a longing to grasp and experience and express everything in the world. Faust became a scientist thanks to the mistakes of his predecessors and contemporaries. Progress in science is governed by the laws of repulsion, every step forward is made by refutation of prevalent errors and false theories. Faust was an artist thanks to the inspiring example of his teachers. Forward steps in art are governed by the law of attraction, are the result of the imitation of and admiration for beloved predecessors.

What is it that prevents me from being a doctor and a writer? I think it is not our privations or our wanderings or our unsettled lives, but the prevalent spirit of high-flown rhetoric, which has spread everywhere — phrases such as ‘the dawn of the future,’ ‘the building of a new world,’ ‘the torch-bearers of mankind.’ The first time you hear such talk you think ‘What breadth of imagination, what richness!’ But in fact it’s so pompous just because it is so unimaginative and second-rate.

Only the familiar transformed by genius is truly great. The best object lesson in this is Pushkin. His works are one great hymn to honest labor, duty, everyday life! Today, ‘bourgeois’ and ‘petty bourgeois’ have become terms of abuse, but Pushkin forestalled the implied criticism in his ‘Family Tree,’ where he says proudly that he belongs to the middle class, and in ‘Onegin’s Travels’ we read:

‘Now my ideal is the housewife,
My greatest wish, a quiet life
And a big bowl of cabbage soup.’

What I have come to like best in the whole of Russian literature is the childlike Russian quality of Pushkin and Chekhov, their modest reticence in such high-sounding matters as the ultimate purpose of mankind or their own salvation. It isn’t that they didn’t think about these things, and to good effect, but to talk about such things seemed to them pretentious, presumptuous. Gogol, Tolstoy, Dostoievsky looked restlessly for the meaning of life, and prepared for death and balanced accounts. Pushkin and Chekhov, right up to the end of their lives, were absorbed in the current, specific tasks imposed on them by their vocation as writers, and in the course of fulfilling these tasks they lived their lives, quietly, treating both their lives and their work as private, individual matters, of no concern to anyone else. And these individual things have since become of concern to all, and their works, like apples picked while they are green, have ripened of themselves, mellowing gradually and growing richer in meaning. (237-238)

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‘The Cabbage Field’ by Charles Courtney Curran, 1914

What Médaille Calls Capitalism

This post is the third in a series of posts on John Médaille’s book, Toward a Truly Free Market. To start at the very beginning–a very good place to start, mind you–find the first post here, and the second here.

Chapter two of John Médaille’s book revolves around his take on capitalism. He’s not a fan, and he doesn’t think you should be one either. He produces a chart with a hundred years worth of data on it concerning the American economy, discusses that chart for a page and a half, and is ready to call the debate for his side:

This leads us to an unavoidable conclusion: capitalism and the free market are incompatible. History shows, beyond any reasonable doubt, that the growth of capitalism and the growth of government go hand in hand. Capitalism and big government are not, as in the popular imagination and the economic treatises, things opposed; rather, the one grows on the back of the other, and the more you get of one, the more you will need of the other. (15)

Sadly, this is par for the course for this chapter, and there’s almost nothing helpful here. That is, there isn’t much helpful with respect to better understanding political economy, history, justice, or ethics. He begins with an equivocation on what capitalism is, and uses this shaky foundation to build up arguments full of insinuation and bluster. Chapter two is helpful, however, for understanding Médaille’s approach to his work. He is more salesman than economist or historian; more of a propagandist than anything else.

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None of this is meant to besmirch the man. Salesmen are not bad people. I aim to take up something like a defense of capitalism in this very post, after all. It would be weird to start such a thing by insulting people who sell stuff. Neither are propagandists all bad. Sometimes they make cool posters. When we like their work, we call them popularizers. The catch is, a salesman needs to have a solid product and a propagandist ought to advocate for something good, true, or beautiful. When these crucial elements are lacking, it discredits the whole project. And that’s what Médaille has done here for distributism. He’s too much in the tank to make a coherent argument that would persuade people who aren’t persuaded already. Again, I’m not saying he’s a shyster or a bad man. He could be innocently wrong here. But I am saying that this chapter is incoherent and should never have been written.

Let’s see if we can start at ground we hold in common and then get from there to why I found this chapter so unhelpful. Hopefully you’ll agree with me that ethics deals with fitting ourselves to what is real. Ethics is based on metaphysics. Médaille spent his first chapter claiming the high ground when it comes to combining economics and ethics, so we should assume that he has a good sense of how what is real relates to what he is proposing. However, in this chapter’s retelling of American economic history, Médaille somehow fails to distinguish between big government conservatism in America and Britain in the 1980s, the political economy in America in the years between 1900 and 1945, Hayekian economic theory, and pure capitalism. In his treatment of Ronald Reagan, he fails to distinguish Reagan’s rhetoric from Reagan’s policies. He jumbles all these things together under the label “capitalism,” and it’s no wonder the argument comes out as a mess. Further, it is only as a mixed-up jumble that Médaille could claim with any kind of justification that the idea of capitalism has failed “in exactly the same way in every case” of failure in the 20th century (18). The first half of that century saw the creation of the Federal Reserve, the institution of the income tax, the Great Depression and the New Deal, two hugely disruptive world wars, and a whole host of other massive government interventions into society, and Médaille is so bold to write “pure capitalism disappeared in the 1940s, caught in its own contradictions” (21).

Just as we struggle with ethics if we’re not grounded in metaphysics, it’s hard to evaluate an economic system if we don’t know what that system is. For Médaille’s assertions to make any sense, capitalism would have to be an arbitrary system that is whatever someone claims about it. But it is not that, and Médaille is not ready to critique capitalism because he does not understand what it is. Just as it makes no sense for a man to claim that his blue shirt is green, it makes no sense for a President to claim to be a capitalist and then turn around and manage the economy like Wilson, Roosevelt, Reagan, or Bush did (or Trump does, or the next guy will…). And in just this way, it makes no sense for an author to claim that an era that saw enormous government interventions into the economy leads to the “unavoidable conclusion” that “capitalism and the free market are incompatible” (15).

This is more than a quibble about definitions, with me taking a strict definition of capitalism and Médaille taking a more broad definition according to how it’s used. Recall Médaille is trying to show us why we need to listen to him when it comes to ethics and justice. He’s trying to show how we’ve got it all wrong so far. But as he’s trying to sell us his vision, he evidences no particular understanding of what pure capitalists actually claim, and no particular understanding of any of the history involved. Why would anyone think that the creation of the Federal Reserve was the necessary result of pure capitalism’s own contradictions? What do private property rights have to do with the Great Depression, or any of the other recessions on his chart? What about deregulation? He would need to address questions like these to prove his case. He would need to demonstrate why these interventions were necessary. Instead, he’s contented himself to talking about second- and third-level issues with no attempt to show us that he’s understood the first- level issues.

One of the stranger aspects of the “failure of capitalism” conversation is that the mistakes Médaille makes in this chapter have been consistently answered by capitalist theorists for decades. Consider Ludwig von Mises’s essay from 1932 called “The Myth of the Failure of Capitalism.” Médaille’s line of argument is similar to the line the Marxists took in Mises’s day:

The line of argument that leads to blaming capitalism for at least some of these things is based on the notion that entrepreneurs and capitalists are no longer liberal but interventionist and statist. The fact is correct, but the conclusions people want to draw from it are wrong-headed. These deductions stem from the entirely untenable Marxist view that entrepreneurs and capitalists protected their special class interests through liberalism during the time when capitalism flourished but now, in the late and declining period of capitalism, protect them through interventionism. This is supposed to be proof that the “hampered economy” of interventionism is the historically necessary economics of the phase of capitalism in which we find ourselves today. But the concept of classical political economy and of liberalism as the ideology (in the Marxist sense of the word) of the bourgeoisie is one of the many distorted techniques of Marxism. If entrepreneurs and capitalists were liberal thinkers around 1800 in England and interventionist, statist, and socialist thinkers around 1930 in Germany, the reason is that entrepreneurs and capitalists were also captivated by the prevailing ideas of the times. In 1800 no less than in 1930 entrepreneurs had special interests which were protected by interventionism and hurt by liberalism.

Today the great entrepreneurs are often cited as “economic leaders.” Capitalistic society knows no “economic leaders.” Therein lies the characteristic difference between socialist economies on the one hand and capitalist economies on the other hand: in the latter, the entrepreneurs and the owners of the means of production follow no leadership save that of the market.

At the beginning of the 20th Century, men like Rockefeller and Morgan had a bunch of capital, but they weren’t capitalists in the sense of believers in a capitalistic economic theory. These men were “captivated by the prevailing ideas of the times,” and the politicians of the day right along with them. In fact, as Murray Rothbard explains here, we got stuck with the Federal Reserve when these Zeitgeist-filled men all conspired together to make it be. This was not a necessary outworking of capitalistic economic theory, nor was it a needed intervention to steady out the economy. It was a power play characteristic of the Progressive Era, an era which saw technocrats and bureaucrats seizing control of various sectors with the belief that they could be managed to perfection. And so it makes no sense to say that this era proved the failure of capitalism. To argue in this way is to equivocate on what is being discussed and to bring darkness to the subject instead of light.

Imagine, if you will, what Médaille might say if someone used his style of reasoning against him. Médaille is a Catholic and much of the literature in the distributist library has been produced by Catholics. How would one expect Médaille to respond if someone brought up an example of recurring corruption among the priesthood over a period of a hundred years within the Catholic church and dismissed Catholicism because of that corruption? If that corruption had actually taken place and was provable, do you expect he would abandon Catholicism because this corrupt priesthood “grows on the back” of Catholicism, and the more you get of Catholicism, the more you need corrupt priests to make Catholicism work? Of course not. Catholicism is a thing. It is a system and a religion with definable characteristics. If Médaille decided to answer this critic at all, he would presumably set about showing how corruption isn’t essential to Catholicism. He might explain that examples of corruption within Catholicism are not due to that religion’s defects but are rather due to man’s corrupt nature, which Catholicism grants.

Capitalism is not a religion. That’s not the parallel here. But, like Catholicism, capitalism is a system with actual definable characteristics. And, just as Médaille would not call Catholicism all that the imaginary critic would call Catholicism, we ought not call capitalism all that Médaille calls capitalism unless and until he demonstrates that what he asserts is true. It is true that capitalism does not prevent men from seizing power in its name, and it does not itself expose them as hypocrites when they use “capitalism” as a cover for their interventionist policies. No economic theory will perfect mankind. If economic theory could perfect us, Jesus would have given us economic theory instead of giving us Himself. Neither can economic theory self-enforce one hundred percent consistency. But capitalism never claimed to be able to do those things. And, in the same way that corruption in the Catholic Church doesn’t disprove Catholicism, corruption in a more capitalistic country’s economy does not disprove capitalism.

Now, as a Protestant, I actually believe there is corruption baked into the essence of Catholicism. Priests should not have to take vows of celibacy because celibacy is not required by God of his ministers. So these priests wind up vowing themselves to a pattern of behavior which God never promised to empower them to maintain. And the logical result, as well as the historical result, is sexual frustration leading to sexual corruption within the ranks of the Catholic priesthood.

Of course, it is not my aim in this post to beat up on Catholics. I simply mean to show from one more angle what type of argument would have done the work Médaille wanted to get done in this chapter, and what kind of argument was conspicuously missing. “Because capitalism” is a lousy way to demonstrate causation.

So then what is real capitalism? There is no official catechism of capitalism like there is for the Catholic church. It’s true that the term ‘capitalism’ was coined by anticapitalists who wedded the ‘capitalistic mode of production’ to a specific understanding of exploitation. But that’s not what Médaille is talking about here. Throughout this chapter, Médaille is often specifically talking about capitalism as represented by Hayek and the Austrians. And because this is his frame of reference and the theory in his cross-hairs, maybe we can trust what Mises said above: a capitalist economy is one in which entrepreneurs and owners of the means of production follow the leadership of the market, and no other. Médaille has failed to show us that capitalism understood in this way is broken.

For my own part, the best explanation of capitalism I’ve heard comes from elsewhere in Mises. I linked to in my first post, but I’ll quote it here for good measure:

The market economy is the social system of the division of labor under private ownership of the means of production. Everybody acts on his own behalf; but everybody’s actions aim at the satisfaction of other people’s needs as well as at the satisfaction of his own. Everybody in acting serves his fellow citizens…

This system is steered by the market. The market directs the individual’s activities into those channels in which he best serves the wants of his fellow men. There is in the operation of the market no compulsion and coercion. The state, the social apparatus of coercion and compulsion, does not interfere with the market….It protects the individual’s life, health, and property against violent or fraudulent aggression on the part of domestic gangsters and external foes….Each man is free; nobody is subject to a despot. Of his own accord the individual integrates himself into the cooperative system. The market directs him and reveals to him in what way he can best promote his own welfare as well as that of other people…

The market is not a place, a thing, or a collective entity. The market is a process, actuated by the interplay of the actions of the various individuals cooperating under the division of labor. The forces determining the–continually changing–state of the market are the value judgments. The state of the market at any instant is the price structure, i.e., the totality of the exchange ratios as established by the interaction of those eager to buy and those eager to sell…..Every market phenomenon can be traced back to definite choices of the members of the market society.

The market process is the adjustment of the individual actions of the various members of the market society to the requirements of mutual cooperation. The market prices tell the producers what to produce, how to produce, and in what quantity. The market is the focal point to which the activities of the individuals converge. It is the center from which the activities of the individuals radiate.

Because this is what capitalism is, it is appropriate to say, as I have said, that capitalism is based on love. Two things are meant by this. First, men’s value judgments drive capitalism. They seek what is valuable and desirable to them. They seek what they love. Recall from that first post that “love” can be righteous or it can be wicked, depending on the thing loved. If men find wickedness desirable and falsely believe that evil is desirable, they will go after these ends with abandon and a purely capitalist economy will not keep them from it. However, if they value righteousness and love what is lovely, a purely capitalist economy will not keep them from pursuing praiseworthy ends either. In a capitalist economy, the market reflects the values of the society.

As a side note, this is actually the best line of critique of pure capitalism to my mind. What kind of limits ought a society to impose upon men to restrain their evil? Do men have a right to do anything they wish with their property as long as they aren’t aggressing against someone else? And if property rights ought to be limited somehow according to true religion (or some other standard), what does this mean for laissez-faire economic theory? I hope to write out my answers to these questions at some point, but because this is not the line of argument that Médaille pursues, my extended thoughts on these matters don’t belong here.

More to the point of this post is the second way that capitalism is based on love. It is related to the first. Not only do men’s loves/desires/needs/values make up the market, but because they do, the way to “get ahead” in a free market is to serve other men by giving them what they want and providing for their needs. Again, the free market is not a moral panacea, and men may love wrongly. Still, capitalism teaches a man to find a way to meet other men’s desires, to benefit his neighbors by serving them in some way. This is a good skill to have, and capitalism teaches it. Economist George Gilder is especially good on this point:

The unending offerings of entrepreneurs, investing capital, creating products, building businesses, inventing jobs, accumulating inventories–all long before any return is received, all without any assurance that the enterprise will not fail–constitute a pattern of giving that dwarfs in extent and essential generosity any primitive rite of exchange. Giving is the vital impulse and moral center of capitalism. (Wealth and Poverty, 35)

Hopefully we can circle back around to the morality of markets when Médaille develops his ideas of justice and property rights more fully. For it is not a subjective love based on man’s felt-needs that fulfills the law, but a love that is in accord with what God has commanded. And so, to act justly in accordance with the law is to do no wrong to a neighbor, to love your neighbor truly (Romans 13:8-10). Justice, law, and love are all tied up together, and Médaille is correct to say we shouldn’t forget about them in our economic theorizing. However, truth also ought to be part of our theorizing, and in chapter two of Toward a Truly Free Market, Médaille managed to write nearly ten pages worth of things that aren’t so.

Postscript: Oddly enough, Médaille’s approach to the economic history of America in the 20th Century in this chapter was the approach of the new economic historians, not of the political economists of old. In chapter one, Médaille spent a good chunk of his time explaining how economics does not “draw its proper methodology from physics, astronomy, chemistry, or any other physical science” (4). Now in chapter two, Médaille takes us to the laboratory of history to test out economic theories. For a good Austrian critique of this type of stuff that is more in line with what Médaille was commending to us in the first chapter, I’d recommend Joe Salerno’s essayHow to Do Economic History.”

The General Relentless Advance

Richard Pipes’s book, A Concise History of the Russian Revolution, is the first book on the topic that I’ve read. It’s a good one. I anticipate returning to it a few times in the not-too-distant future. For now, please accept for your consideration a couple quick quotes from that book on the tactics and foundations of the revolutionaries. The first comes from Lenin himself, and the second is Pipes’ analysis of the intelligentsia.

We have great revolutionary experience, and from that experience we have learned that it is necessary to follow the tactics of the relentless advance whenever objective conditions allow it…But we have to adopt the tactic of procrastination, the slow gathering of forces when the objective conditions do not offer the possibility of making an appeal to the general relentless advance. (176-177)

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There would have been no relentless advance–no revolution–if the intelligentsia had not been there to manufacture it. Note especially in the next quote how materialism pops up in Pipes’s description of these people. Add to Bavinck, add to Mises and Médaille, the witness of Richard Pipes that materialism is bad whiskey.

Why use the foreign-sounding “intelligentsia” when the English language has the word “intellectuals”? The answer is that one needs different terms to designate different phenomena–in this case, to distinguish those who passively contemplate life from activists who are determined to reshape it. Marx succinctly stated the latter position when he wrote: “The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point, however, is to change it.” The term “intelligentsia” describes intellectuals who want power in order to change the world. It is a word of Latin origin, which passed in the middle of the nineteenth century from German into Russian and from there, after the 1917 Revolution, into English.

Whether the conflicts and resentments that exist in every society are peacefully resolved or explode in revolution is largely determined by the presence or absence of democratic institutions capable of redressing grievances through legislation, and the presence or absence of an intelligentsia determined to fan the flames of popular discontent for the purpose of gaining power. For it is the radical intelligentsia that transforms specific, and therefore remediable, grievances into the uncompromising rejection of the status quo. Rebellions happen; revolutions are made. And they are made by bodies of professional “managers of the revolution,” namely the radical intelligentsia.

For an intelligentsia to emerge, two conditions must be met. One is a materialistic ideology that regards human beings not as unique creatures endowed with an immortal soul but as exclusively physical entities shaped by their environment. This ideology makes it possible to argue that a rational reordering of man’s environment can produce a new breed of perfectly virtuous creatures. This belief elevates members of the intelligentsia to the status of social engineers and justifies their political ambitions.

Second, the intelligentsia requires economic opportunities to secure independence: The dissolution of traditional social estates and the emergence of free professions (such as journalism and university teaching) along with an industrial economy in need of experts and an educated reading public, which, all taken together, emancipate intellectuals from subjection to the Establishment. These opportunities, accompanied by guarantees of free speech and association, enable the intelligentsia to secure a hold on public opinion, its principal means of political leverage.

Intellectuals first appeared in Europe as a distinct group in the sixteenth century in connection with the emergence of secular society and the progress of science. They were lay thinkers who approached traditional philosophical questions outside the framework of theology and the church, which in the postclassical world had enjoyed a monopoly on such speculation. Like the philosophers of ancient Greece and Rome, they saw their mission as one of teaching virtue and wisdom–educating men to curb their passions and to accept life with all its dark sides, including the inevitability of death.

Then a different kind of intellectual made his appearance. Impressed by the advances of science and the seemingly limitless possibilities inherent in the scientific method, he saw no reason he should not apply the insights into nature that science had made possible in order to master nature. It was a notion with very wide applications. The scientific (empirical) method posited that only that existed which could be observed and measured. It raised the question whether man could be said to possess an immortal soul or ideas planted in him at birth, as taught by religion and metaphysics, for neither this soul nor these ideas could be identified by scientific observation.

The full philosophical implications of this empirical approach were first drawn by John Locke in his seminal Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690). In his political writings Locke laid down the foundations of the liberal constitutions of Great Britain and the United States. But his philosophical treatise inadvertently fed a very different, illiberal current of political thought. The Essay challenged the axiom of Western philosophy and theology that human beings were born with “innate ideas,” including knowledge of God and a sense of right and wrong. This notion had made for a conservative theory of politics because, by postulating that man comes into the world spiritually and intellectually formed, it also postulated that he was immutable. From this it followed that the principles of government were the same for all nations and ages. According to Locke, however, man is born a blank slate on which physical sensations and experiences write the messages that make him what he is. There is no such thing as free will: man can no more reject the ideas that the senses inscribe on his mind than a mirror can “refuse, alter, or obliterate the images or ideas which objects set before it” produce.

The implications of Locke’s theory of knowledge, ignored in his own country, were seized upon and developed in France by radical thinkers, notably Claude Helvétius. In De l’esprit (1758), Helvétius drew on Locke’s epistemology to argue that insofar as man is totally molded by his environment, a perfect environment will inevitably produce perfect human beings. The means toward this end are education and legislation. The task of the political and social order, therefore, is not to create optimal conditions in which mankind can realize its potential but rather to render mankind “virtuous.” Good government not only ensures “the greatest happiness of the greatest number” (a formula attributed to Helvétius) but literally refashions man. This unprecedented proposition constitutes the premise of both liberal and radical ideologies of modern times. It justifies the government’s far-reaching intervention in the lives of its citizens.

This idea holds an irresistible attraction for intellectuals because it elevates them from the position of passive observers of life into its shapers. Their superior knowledge of what is rational and virtuous permits them to aspire to the status of mankind’s “educators.” While ordinary people, in pursuit of living, acquire specific knowledge relevant to their particular occupation, intellectuals–and they alone–claim to know things “in general.” By creating “sciences” of human affairs–economic science, political science, sociology–they feel at liberty to dismiss as irrelevant practices and institutions created over millennia by trial and error. It is this philosophical revolution that has transformed some intellectuals into an intelligentsia, actively involved in politics. And, of course, involvement in politics makes them politicians, and, like others of the breed, prone to pursue their private interests in the guise of working for the common good. (21-23)

On Scientific Pursuit

It is a truth universally acknowledged that one ought to query Herman Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics when one wishes to develop his own ideas on any subject. If Bavinck hasn’t written on a given subject directly, he’s at least put some time into developing a proper foundation from which a man can begin his own inquiry.

the-sower-van-gogh

In the last post, Médaille and Mises agreed that diminishing man as a way of practicing economics could only end in disaster. But what’s the right way to do economics? Or, broadening the question, what does it mean for a man in full to engage scientifically? How does that work? These paragraphs from Bavinck’s section on empiricism begin to answer those sorts of questions. (Note especially his reference to 2 Timothy 3:16-17 at the end of the second paragraph: “proficient and equipped for every good work.” We would be fools to put Scripture to the side in our pursuit of scientific knowledge and hope to be equipped to have success in our pursuits.)

Empiricism’s…view of science is also subject to serious question. Science, after all, is by its very nature interested in knowledge of that which is universal, necessary, eternal, and logical. Knowledge of phenomena, persons, facts, etc., though good, is still only preparatory; analysis comes first but synthesis must follow. Scientific knowledge exists only when we see the cause and essence, the purpose and destiny of things, when we know not only the that (ὅτι) but also the wherefore (διότι) and thus discern the causes of things (rerum dignoscimus causas). Empricism, however, is compelled to deny the name of “science” to all sciences except the exact sciences. But this restriction is impossible for two reasons. First, because aside from the purely formal sciences (logic, mathematics, mechanics, astronomy, chemistry), and then only in a certain sense, there can be no science without a philosophical element. In every science, inventiveness, intuition, imagination, in a word, genius (and in this connection the scientific hypothesis) play a most important role. And second, because then the name of “science” can finally be reserved only for a few subsidiary disciplines, and precisely the knowledge that is most important to human beings and that in their research is their primary interest is banished from the domain of science. Thomas’s maxim, in which he follows Aristotle, remains true: “The slenderest acquaintance we can form with heavenly things is more desirable than a thorough grasp of mundane matters.” And Schopenhauer made a similar statement: “People never stop praising the reliability and certainty of mathematics. However, what benefit is there for me in knowing with ever so much certainty and reliability something which I do not in the least care about?”

In addition to this, the world of nonmaterial things, the world of values, of good and evil, law and custom, religion and morality, of all that inspires love and hatred in our hearts, lifts us up and comforts us or crushes us and grieves us, that whole magnificent invisible world is as much a reality to us as the “real world” that we perceive with our senses. Its impact on our lives and on the history of humankind is still much greater than that of the visible things about us. Human beings may be freely asked, then, to limit themselves in their research since in this domain no knowledge is possible, but this demand bounces off what Schopenhauer called the metaphysical need of the human spirit. Man is not only an intellectual but also a willing and feeling being; he is not a thinking machine but in addition to his head also has a heart, an [inner] world of feelings and passions. He brings these with him in his scientific research. In his activities in study and laboratory, he cannot lock himself out. It cannot rightly be demanded of man that in his scientific labors, that is, in one of the noblest activities of his mind, he silence the voice of his feelings, his heart, the best part of him, and thus cripple himself. Only this may always–and therefore also in the case of the practitioner of science–be demanded: that he be a good, a true man, a man of God, proficient and equipped for every good work, including this work of pursuing scientific knowledge.

If, however, the pursuit of science is both subjectively and objectively restricted, the only outcome will be that people will seek the satisfaction of their metaphysical needs in other ways. Kant took the road of practical reason; Comte introduced the cult of humanity, consecrating himself as its high priest; and Spencer humbly bowed down before “The Unknowable.” In one way or another–including even spiritism, magic, and theosophy–they all seek compensation for what science will not give them. And religion, along with all spiritual knowledge, having first been shamefully dismissed through the front door, is again admitted through the back door but now frequently in the form of superstition. “You may expel nature with might and main; it will nevertheless always come bounding back” (Horace). Only, the inevitable result is that science is then left, undefended and unarmed, to materialism. And, in fact, this is what empiricism has led to. If the content and, soon, the intellectual faculty of the soul as well proceed altogether from the external world, why then could not the soul itself be explained in terms of it as well? But over against this still always stand the “seven riddles of the world” as a source of torment and vexation to the materialistic mind. The spiritual still has not yet been explained in terms of the material, any more than rationalism has succeeded in deriving “being” from “thinking.” No passage between the two has been found. Here is a gap that neither idealism nor materialism can bridge. It is not too daring even now to say not only “we do not know” (Ignoramus) but also “we shall not know” (Ignorabimus). But when we see that, despite the great promises made and the still greater expectations entertained, empiricism and rationalism in this century ended up in mere materialism and illusionism, we wonder. Despite the opposition between materialism and illusionism, they still advanced and aided each other–in the case of Feuerbach and Strauss, Hegel’s idealism ended in materialism, and in the cases of many natural scientists, materialism is turning into full or semi-idealism. So there is good reason to ask some questions. Does not the whole of modern philosophy, in its Cartesian as well as in its Baconian expression, need revision? Are there not other and better principles of science, principles that protect us from materialism as well as idealism? (Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. I, 221-222)

homo whaticus?

We’re continuing our attempt to move Toward a Truly Free Market with the help of John Médaille’s book by that name. In the introductory post we began and ended with brief discussions of terms like love, hate, and free. Médaille begins his book in a similar vein, looking at the difference between the terms economics and political economy. Interestingly, he notes that the first version of the Oxford English Dictionary (completed in 1928) has no entry for ‘economics’ (2). Before that, men like Adam Smith, David Ricardo, and Karl Marx would have thought of their science as political economy. So why the change? Médaille writes:

…if they were synonyms, there would be no reason for the change. The difference between the terms is that the political economists saw their science as a humane science firmly embedded in human institutions. The new economists, on the other hand, saw their discipline not as a humane science, but as something in the order of the physical sciences, which operate independently of human intentions. (2-3)

According to Médaille, the downgrade from thinking in terms of the political economy to thinking in terms of economics evidences a misunderstanding of the world and diminishes what it is to be a man:

…to make economics work as physics works, guided by physical measurement and ruled by pure mathematics, they have to reduce man to a physical object in a world of physical objects. They have to reduce man’s labor to a mere commodity, purchased at the lowest value like any commodity; they have to reduce man to an economic calculator, the mythical homo œconomicus. Mostly, they have to divorce the economic question…from any question of ethics. (3-4)

In other words, because there is simply no way to live as a man outside the realm of ethics, to pretend to do so when we practice economics is the height of folly. Building off these ideas, Médaille explains for us “the over-riding theme of this book:”

Economics, or more properly, political economy, cannot be a proper science unless it is a humane science; to be a humane science it must embody some notion of justice, and particularly of distributive justice. (5)

And so the stage is set for the rest of the work. He won’t develop his understanding of distributive justice until later in the book. We’ll pick it back up when he does.

As he closes out this chapter, Médaille faults modern economists for not foreseeing and preventing the 2008 housing bubble crash. Because “90 percent [of economists] missed the coming of the last disaster, and the one before that” (5), he asserts that economics must be “an incomplete science” and “not able to make any rational policy prescriptions” (6). The distributists, who share Médaille’s vision of the political economy, have also failed though. They haven’t been able to articulate their vision in a way that would engage with people on an economic level in the same way that they’ve succeeded so well in engaging on an ethical level. Addressing this issue is one of Médaille’s goals for Toward a Truly Free Market. He aims to give distributists reasons for the hope that is in them and to arm them with economic arguments so that they have “the intellectual arms and armor necessary to enter the debate on more equal terms” (9).

In this first chapter, Médaille also mentions the Austrian school of economics, dubbing it one of the branches of economics which is “nearly the opposite of distributism” (8). If the opposition between distributism and “Austrianism” is true in general, it’s certainly not true with regard to the specific points Médaille makes in this chapter. To a man, Austrians object to the idea of homo œconomicus, for example. Over at Mises.org, Ryan McMaken has suggested instead that the concept is a tool for central planners because it allows them to flatten man’s desires down to economic utility. Were man to behave mechanistically with only economic motivations, he would be much easier to predict and control. To refer back to Médaille’s language above, if it were legitimate to reduce men down to physical objects, it would be more plausible for outside authorities to plan their lives. Austrians agree with Médaille, however, that man is motivated by far more than monetary considerations in his actions. In the article just mentioned, McMaken quotes Mises on the subject:

It was a fundamental mistake…to interpret economics as the characterization of the behavior of an ideal type, the homo œconomicus. According to this doctrine traditional or orthodox economics does not deal with the behavior of man as he really is and acts, but with a fictitious or hypothetical image. It pictures a being driven exclusively by “economic” motives, i.e., solely by the intention of making the greatest possible material or monetary profit. Such a being does not have and never did a counterpart in reality; it is a phantom of a spurious armchair philosophy. No man is exclusively motivated by the desire to become as rich as possible; many are not at all influenced by this mean craving. It is vain to refer to such an illusory homunculus in dealing with life and history.

Mises and Médaille agree that man is more than a merely physical, material, or monetary being.

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Dutch Flower Market by Hans Herrmann…homo œconomicus at a loss amidst the beauty

So too, Austrians have always rejected the mathematical approach to economics. Consider this from elsewhere in Mises:

The mathematical method must be rejected not only on account of its barrenness. It is an entirely vicious method, starting from false assumptions and leading to fallacious inferences. Its syllogisms are not only sterile; they divert the mind from the study of the real problems and distort the relations between the various phenomena.

If the mathematical method is no good, what method ought to be used instead? Mises terms his own approach “logical economics,” which he says is “a theory of processes and changes,” namely the “analysis of the market process.” The market process is, at its core, simply “purposive human action.” This is why Mises called the book from which I’ve pulled these quotes Human Action. Note that this is a far cry from Médaille’s charge above that the “new economists” understand their discipline to “operate independently of human intentions.” So innocent are the Austrians of this charge that their whole system is based on the axiom that humans act. Men intend things. They are purposive beings. This is right where economics starts for the Austrians, and because this axiom is true, we’re able to logically deduce from said axiom a system of laws which have both meaning and sound predictive capabilities.

Remember that this is exactly what Médaille was after: an understanding of the political economy that did not reduce man down to a physical object, and which would at the same time have the ability to suggest policies which would be able to prevent (or at least anticipate) economic disasters. On this point, it’s worth marking that there was no mention of distributists that predicted the crisis of 2008 in Médaille’s book. Maybe some distributists saw it coming, but Médaille doesn’t provide any examples. Austrians, on the other hand, were describing the housing bubble and predicting a coming crash as early as 2001 and 2002. And not just a few of them. Over at the Mises wiki you can find documentation of two dozen or more Austrians sounding the alarm about the impending crisis throughout the early 2000s.

But, overall, we’re off to a good start as we move toward a truly free market. We must recognize what man is if we’re to analyze his behavior in social cooperation and exchange. He is not simply a physical object, but also an ethical being, motivated by desires toward certain ends. There will be plenty of time for disagreements later on. Médaille maintains that his system recognizes the ethical element of economics and embodies distributive justice particularly. Mises defines his system as an analysis of human action in the market process. These different starting points will come to a head especially in chapters three, four, and five. But if the core contention of chapter one is that economics as a science must deal with man holistically, then I am happy to affirm it. And, as far as I can tell, so are the Austrians.

Love & Economics

Love always gets good press. Everyone loves love. Some say it’s all you need. In fact, love is so great that it’s self-defining. ‘Love is love’ according to the ad campaign that our elites are currently waging upon us. Incidentally, this is a brilliant way to maintain two blasphemies at once: first, that love is a magical label which a man can apply to any and every desire in his heart he wishes to justify; and second, that our loves are on par with (or can even usurp) the place of the one true God in our lives. The biblical construction, of course, is that God is love.

How should we feel about this sort of move in our culture? How should we feel about ad campaigns teaching blasphemies? How should we feel about corporations providing cover for perversity? We should hate it. We should even pray to hate it more than we currently do. Indeed, hating well is part of what it means to fear God: “The fear of the Lord is to hate evil: pride, and arrogancy, and the evil way, and the froward mouth, do I hate” (Prov. 8:13). Doug Wilson meditated on this verse a few years ago at the beginning of the year and resolved to become a better hater:

The fear of the Lord is to hate what is evil. We should be able to immediately see that there is no virtue or vice to be found in a transitive verb. By themselves as verbs, love is not good and hatred is not bad. Everything rides on the direct object. If you love your mom, that is great, but if you love child porn — same verb and everything — you are being wicked. In order to honor God, the right verb has to be lined up with the right direct object. Genuine love lines up with certain things, and so does true-hearted hate.

In the passage quoted, the direct object for hate must be evil, pride, arrogance, an evil way, and perverted speech. If you look around at the landscape that lies before us in this freshly minted 2014, there are many objects that rightly qualify as direct objects of our hatred — if we are to be disciples of Jesus in 2014. We live in what military men call a target-rich environment.

His post continues with seven ways we can better follow Jesus by hating as he hates. Go read it and come back.

This idea of nurturing the right hates is grounded in the Bible, so it would be wrong to credit the idea to a man. But I suppose I first started thinking in these grooves when I read Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton in high school. In a section explaining his “position about all that was called optimism, pessimism, and improvement,” he outlined a paradoxical approach to life:

It will be said that a rational person accepts the world as mixed of good and evil with a decent satisfaction and a decent endurance. But this is exactly the attitude which I maintain to be defective…. I know this feeling fills our epoch, and I think it freezes our epoch. For our Titanic purposes of faith and revolution, what we need is not the cold acceptance of the world as a compromise, but some way in which we can heartily hate and heartily love it. We do not want joy and anger to neutralize each other and produce a surly contentment; we want a fiercer delight and a fiercer discontent. We have to feel the universe at once as an ogre’s castle, to be stormed, and yet as our own cottage, to which we can return at evening.

Hearty hate and hearty love. Over a decade after first reading that book, I think those words are still true and I’m grateful to Chesterton for writing them. But I bring up these concepts and my appreciation for Chesterton for another reason. Having not read much from Chesterton other than this book and The Everlasting Man, I wasn’t aware until a couple years ago that he was a major proponent of an economic system called distributism. Some Christian writers I respect have recently mentioned the system positively and a friend from facebook praised a book on the subject to the skies: “hands-down the best book on political economy for a general readership that I’ve read…more social than socialism and more liberty-minded than libertarianism.”

Based on the testimony of Chesterton and these other friends, I bought and read John C. Médaille’s book, Toward a Truly Free Market. Over the weeks to come, I intend to publish a blog series reviewing this book to explain why I found the book’s arguments so unconvincing. As I’m not an economist, I’m hardly qualified to comment on the book as an authority in myself. However, I believe I can explain why Médaille’s book failed in my eyes in comparison to typical explanations of the relevant economic history and theory one would find from an economist of the Austrian School.

Despite my assessment of the book, I’m happy to confess from the outset that I realize Médaille is a true ally on many of the most important contested fronts of our social life today. Not only do I enjoy Chesterton’s work and respect my friends who think about political economy as Médaille does, but I also regularly read nearly all of the publications represented in the blurbs of Toward a Truly Free Market. So this is not a take-down series against an enemy. In fact, I believe many of the things Médaille proposes would be improvements upon the current system.

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The Dutch Maiden, liberty pole in hand, in Gérard de Lairesse’s Allegory of the Freedom of Trade, 1672

With these caveats out of the way, I will start looking at Médaille’s first chapter in the next post. For now, I’ll end with a note on his title. Just as love and hate must be understood and evaluated based on their direct objects, I take Médaille to be reminding us with his title that freedom—specifically the free market—must be understood and evaluated based on its context. Everything that gets labelled a ‘free market’ in our day is not in accord with true freedom. On this, we agree. But we’ll soon separate when Médaille begins to explain what his vision of a truly free market entails. For my own part, I believe with Mises that a truly free market is based on service and meeting one another’s needs. To bring it back to where we started, it’s based on love. And, after all, love is all you need.

Letter to Gillespie

James Henley Thornwell models what it is to be a Christian father in this letter to his son, Gillespie. Less than two years after this letter was written, both father and son were dead. As B.M. Palmer notes, Thornwell’s letter “could scarcely have been more faithful in its appeal, had he known how soon they would both be together in eternity:”

Glenn Springs, June 19, 1861,

MY DEAR GILLESPIE: It has been on my heart for some time back to have a serious and solemn conversation with you, touching the great interests of the soul. During all my sickness, nothing has pressed upon my mind more than the condition and prospects of my boys, in relation to the salvation of the gospel. I have dedicated you and your brothers to God. I have prayed that He would call you all into His kingdom; and I once ventured to hope that I might see you all ministers of the gospel. There is nothing worth living for but the glory of God; and I do most devoutly wish that your eyes may be opened to see the transcendent importance of eternal things. You have but one soul; and if you lose that, all is gone; and once lost, it is lost for ever.

You may say that you acknowledge the truth of all this, but you do not feel it. My son, you must strive to feel it. You must think upon the matter seriously and earnestly; you must pray over it; you must confess and deplore your hardness of heart, and seek from the Lord a clean heart and a right spirit. Resolve never to give over, until you find that you are interested, and warmly interested, in the great salvation. You cannot imagine what a comfort it would be to me in my declining days to see you humbly and sincerely following the Lord Jesus Christ. And why not do it? Can you gain anything by carelessness and remissness? Are you happier when you do not know but that, at any moment, you may be summoned before God altogether unprepared? Is not the fear of the Lord the beginning of wisdom? and do they not exhibit the soundest understanding who keep God’s commandments? My son, you know not how much I love you, and cannot know how much I feel for your immortal interests. Do me, your father, the favour to give your mind to the matter at once, and decidedly. Seek to be a thorough-going, devoted Christian. Seek the Lord with your whole heart. Renounce all sin, and renounce it for ever; and betake yourself to the blood of Christ for pardon and acceptance. Do more; have an eye to the eternal good of your younger brothers. They look up to you; they respect you; they try to do as you do. Set them a good example. Go before them in the way of eternal life.

Religion cannot be maintained without regular prayer, and regular reading of the Scriptures, and regular attendance upon the ordinances. Never omit your morning and evening devotions, and try to be interested in them; think over what you pray for; think before you pray. When you read the Bible, read in order to get knowledge. Meditate on what you read; and beg God to seal it on your heart by the Holy Ghost. At church, try to be profited. Apply to yourself what you hear. Look upon preaching as God’s appointment, and expect His blessing in attending upon it. My dear boy, reflect upon what I have said to you; and gladden my heart, when I see you again, by your interest in all that concerns the glory of God, and the salvation of the soul. Pray over this letter; look upon it as your father’s legacy; and for his sake, as well as your own, awake to the importance of these high themes.

As to my health, I cannot say that there is any marked change yet. I think, upon the whole, I am improving. The atmosphere here at present is very cool and delightful. Our nights are charming; and I enjoy the magnificent forests about here very much. I can never gaze on these enough. And now, my boy, may God bless you. Be true to Him, and He will be faithful to you

Your affectionate father,
    J.H. THORNWELL

Thornwell grave

Q. 37. What benefits do believers receive from Christ at death? Answer: The souls of believers are at their death made perfect in holiness, and do immediately pass into glory; and their bodies, being still united to Christ, do rest in their graves till the resurrection. Q. 38. What benefits do believers receive from Christ at the resurrection? Answer: At the resurrection, believers being raised up in glory, shall be openly acknowledged and acquitted in the day of judgment, and made perfectly blessed in the full enjoying of God to all eternity.

An Old Note on the New Age

In his 1933 address ‘The Responsibility of the Church in Our New Age,’ J. Gresham Machen explored two sub-questions by way of explaining his subject: “(1) What is the new age? (2) What is the church?” Find that whole address at the end of D.G. Hart’s Fighting the Good Fight. A few quotes from Machen’s first section on the new age:

There are old things which ought to remain in the new age; and many of the things, both good and bad, which the new age regards as new are really as old as the hills.

In the former category are to be put, for example, the literary and artistic achievements of past generations. Those are things which the new age ought to retain, at least until the new age can produce something to put in their place, and that it has so far signally failed to do. I am well aware that when I say to the new age that Homer is still worth reading, or that the Cathedral of Amiens is superior to any of the achievements of the art nouveau, I am making assertions which it would be difficult for me to prove. There is no disputing about tastes. Yet, after all, until the artistic impulse is eradicated more thoroughly from human life than has so far been done even by the best efforts of the metallic civilization of our day, we cannot get rid of the categories of good and bad or high and low in the field of art. But when we pay attention to those categories, it becomes evident at once that we are living today in a drab and decadent age, and that a really new impulse will probably come, as it has come so many times before, only through a rediscovery of the glories of the past. (198)

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The Rose Window at the Cathedral of Amiens, William J. Smither

So much for Machen’s view of new age art. On the next page, he discusses the mechanization of life in the new age. Machines are not to blame for the problems of the new age, says Machen, but man himself. He concludes that “the real trouble with the world lies in the soul of man” (200):

Unquestionably, industrialism, with the accompanying achievements of modern science in both the physical and the social realm, does constitute a great temptation to destroy freedom; but temptation is not compulsion, and of real compulsion there is none.

No, my friends, there is no real reason for mankind to surrender to the machine. If liberty is crushed out, if standardization has its perfect work, if the worst of all tyrannies, the tyranny of the expert, becomes universal, if the finer aspirations of humanity give way to drab efficiency, do not blame the external conditions in the world today. If human life becomes mechanized, do not blame the machine. Put the blame exactly where it belongs–upon the soul of man.

Is it not in general within that realm of the soul of man that the evils of society have their origin today? We have developed a vast and rather wonderful machinery–the machinery of our modern life. For some reason, it has recently ceased to function. The experts are busily cranking the engine, as I used to do with my Ford car in the heroic days when a Ford was still a Ford. They are wondering why the engine does not start. They are giving learned explanations of its failure to do so; they are adducing the most intricate principles of dynamics. It is all very instructive, no doubt. But the real explanation is much simpler. It is simply that the driver of the car has forgotten to turn on the switch. The real trouble with the engine of modern society is that it is not producing a spark. The real trouble lies in that unseen realm which is found within the soul of man.

That realm cannot be neglected even in a time of immediate physical distress like the present. I do not know in detail how this physical distress is to be relieved. I would to God that I did. But one thing I do know; it will never be relieved if, in our eagerness to relieve it, we neglect the unseen things. It is not practical to be merely practical men; man cannot successfully be treated as a machine; even the physical welfare of humanity cannot be attained if we make that the supreme object of our pursuit; even in a day when so many material problems are pressing for our attention, we cannot neglect the evils of the soul. (199-200)

After Machen’s examination of several characteristics of the new age, the rest of the address is devoted to answering the second question: what is the church? That section is worth reading, but for now I want to skip to the end of the address. Machen concludes by outlining what one has a right to expect from “a true Christian church,” and then returning to the subject of the church’s responsibility in the new age:

If you are dissatisfied with a relative goodness, which is no goodness at all; if you are conscious of your sin and if you hunger and thirst after righteousness; if you are dissatisfied with the world and are seeking the living God, then turn to the Church of Jesus Christ. That church is not always easy to distinguish today. It does not always present itself to you in powerful organizations; it is often hidden away here and there, in individual congregations resisting the central ecclesiastical mechanism; it is found in groups, large or small, of those who have been redeemed from sin and are citizens of a heavenly kingdom. But wherever it is found, you must turn to that true Church of Jesus Christ for a message from God. The message will not be enforced by human authority or by the pomp of numbers. Yet some of you may hear it. If you do hear it and heed it, you will possess riches greater than the riches of all the world.

Do you think that if you heed the message you will be less successful students of political and social science; do you think that by becoming citizens of another world you will become less fitted to solve this world’s problems; do you think that acceptance of the Christian message will hinder political or social advance? No, my friends. I will present to you a strange paradox but an assured truth–this world’s problems can never be solved by those who make this world the object of their desires. This world cannot ultimately be bettered if you think that this world is all. To move the world you must have a place to stand.

This, then, is the answer that I give to the question before us. The responsibility of the church in the new age is the same as its responsibility in every age. It is to testify that this world is lost in sin; that the span of human life–nay, all the length of human history–is an infinitesimal island in the awful depths of eternity; that there is a mysterious, holy, living God, Creator of all, Upholder of all, infinitely beyond all; that He has revealed Himself to us in His Word and offered us communion with Himself through Jesus Christ the Lord; that there is no other salvation, for individuals or for nations, save this, but that this salvation is full and free, and that whosoever possess it has for himself and for all others to whom he may be the instrument of bringing it a treasure compared with which all the kingdoms of the earth–nay, all the wonders of the starry heavens–are as the dust of the street.

An unpopular message it is–an impractical message, we are told. But it is the message of the Christian church. Neglect it, and you will have destruction; heed it, and you will have life. (208-209)

Sons of Light

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St. Peter’s Basilica, Photo by Chad Greiter on Unsplash

The people answered him, ‘We have heard from the law that the Christ remains forever; and how can you say, “The Son of Man must be lifted up”? Who is this Son of Man?’

“Then Jesus answered them, ‘A little while longer the light is with you. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you; he who walks in darkness does not know where he is going. While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.'” — John 12:34-36

“For this you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not be partakers with them. For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth), finding out what is acceptable to the Lord. And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of those things which are done by them in secret. But all things that are exposed are made manifest by the light, for whatever makes manifest is light.” — Ephesians 5:5-13