In "Road to Serfdom" economist F.A. Hayek recognized the vision of Hilaire Belloc's 1913 book "The Servile State". Writing during World War II, Hayek said: "Even much more recent warnings [about Socialism] which have proved dreadfully true have been almost entirely forgotten. It is not yet thirty years since Hilaire Belloc, in a book which explains more of what has happened since in Germany than most works written after the event, explained that `the effects of Socialist doctrine on Capitalist society is to produce a third thing different from either of its two begetters - to wit, the Servile State." In short, Belloc said, you get the worst of both worlds, a master class (monopolist Capitalists) using the power of government (Socialism) to control workers. There is name for the condition where one group of people uses the force of law to control the work another group of people; it is called "slavery". He wrote this in a much different era and it takes some effort to put aside some of the things we take for granted. Belloc saw things like worker's compensation laws as baby steps toward slavery. They tended to create in the law two classes of people, employers (read "Masters") and workers (read "serfs"). It divided "us" into "us and them". "Servile State" goes full circle, beginning with slavery in the Roman Empire. The slaves had a degree a freedom and could save up money to free themselves, but they were still slaves. Under Christianity the slave became a peasant with rights of inheritance. Christianity introduced a rough egalitarianism ("And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts crying, `Abba, Father.' So that he is no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, an heir through God." - Galatians 4:6-7.Read more ›
In this liberty classic, the Catholic intellectual Hilaire Belloc writes that the present system of capitalism is likely to give rise to something new, the servile state, because of inherent instabilities within it. Belloc defines this state as, "That arrangement of society in which so considerable a number of the families and individuals are constrained by positive law to labor for the advantage of other families and individuals as to stamp the whole community with the mark of such labor we call the servile state." This servile state is a return to the form of pagan slavery that existed in Europe before the advent of Christianity abolished it. Belloc contends that from the original pagan form of slavery, Christianity brought about a new system of society, the distributivist society. In this system, every individual was an owner of property and belonged to guilds which allowed for him to own the means of production. However, the distributivist system failed with the breakdown of the Christian faith. For example, the Reformation allowed for the Crown to confiscate monastic lands. Thus, a small group of indiviudals, the capitalists, came to own the means of production and the property. Belloc does not blame the existence of capitalism on the Industrial Revolution like most other thinkers have. Rather, he sees the problem in society as existing before the Industrial Revolution. Belloc contends that had distributivism not broken down, the Industrial Revolution would have been beneficial to all concerned. The current system of the capitalist state is unstable however, and may give rise to one of two separate things. Reformers have tried to create from the capitalist system a collectivist (or socialist) state.Read more ›
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Hilaire Belloc's 1912 classic represents the former UK Liberal Party parliamentarian's break with capitalism, state socialism and the welter of piecemeal liberal and social democratic reforms that would ultimately evolve into the modern welfare state.
The book is simultaneously easy to read and clearly argued, yet sometimes verbose and long winded. Still it's logically argued and conceptually sound.
The `Liberty Press' edition I read included an excellent introduction by American sociologist Robert Nisbet. This extended essay includes personal biographical insights which indicate that `The Servile State' played an important role in the development of Nisbet's own stream of pluralist conservative thought, a line hitherto neglected by Nisbet's intellectual biographers. Nisbet, following Belloc, champions the role of intermediate institutions, between the citizen and the state, as providing the true institutional skeleton of freedom. Although usually characterized as a conservative, Belloc's Servile State played a critical role in influencing such radical non-conservatives as Dorothy Day and John Anderson, the founder of the Sydney left libertarian movement. This movement later spawned such prominent Australian international intellectuals as Germaine Greer, Robert Hughes and Clive James. Anderson, I believe, even attributed his rejection of Marxism to Belloc. One can easily imagine Belloc engaged in lively debate over drinks with these now prominent, if somewhat wayward, descendants.
Still `Servile State' is not purely a polemical book. It includes insightful historical analysis of the rise and decline of slavery in the west. It shows just how deep rooted and unpeculiar "the peculiar institution" has been.Read more ›