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How we begin a discussion of something often goes a long way to determine the conclusion we arrive at. For example, if we begin a discussion of human sexuality simply by noting the nearly ubiquitous desire of humans for sexual pleasure and our multifarious ways of satisfying that desire, this might well put our discussion on the wrong track and lead to erroneous conclusions. On the other hand, if we were to begin by noting the fact that human sexuality is related to a very important social function, that of continuation of the human race, we might reach very different conclusions. The same is true of a discussion of economics. Today and for a long time the starting point for economic analysis, according to most authors and teachers, is scarcity. This starting point tends to point the discussion in a particular direction. Here is how Paul Samuelson treats the topic.

A situation of scarcity is one in which goods are limited relative to desires. An objective observer would have to agree that, even after two centuries of rapid economic growth, production in the United States is simply not high enough to meet everyone’s desires. If you add up all the wants, you quickly find that there are simply not enough goods and services to satisfy even a small fraction of everyone’s consumption desires. Our national output would have to be many times larger before the average American could live at the level of the average doctor or big-league baseball player.[1]

I suggest that here we have something like the original sin of mainstream economics. In a way, of course, Samuelson’s statement is true. But only in a way, and moreover, as a starting point for thinking about the economy, his statement leads us astray and vitiates the entire enterprise of economics as that is usually conducted.

Let us begin by examining Samuelson’s assertion carefully.

“A situation of scarcity is one in which goods are limited relative to desires.” In the first place, we can note here that no distinction is made between wants and needs. A desire to “live at the level of the average doctor or big-league baseball player” is apparently no different from a desire to have enough to eat or to provide medical care for a sick child. But can any Christian really think that God gave mankind the capacity and need to use external goods so that we all “could live at the level of the average doctor or big-league baseball player”? It is true that in our efforts to construct a society that serves genuine needs rather than disordered wants we must not be too rigid in deciding what are needs and what merely wants, and ought to allow a generous place for human freedom and choice, nevertheless we surely can say that Samuelson’s utter failure even to attempt to distinguish between wants and needs marks his brand of economic analysis as faulty from the start.

Secondly, is it really true that most people want to “live at the level of the average doctor or big-league baseball player”? Here we come to the interesting question of the effects of culture on our desires. It may be the case that most Americans wish to live at that level, but why is that? Over fifty years ago Msgr. John Tracy Ellis, in his once famous address, American Catholics and the Intellectual Life, wrote,

From the time when the Duc de Liancourt traveled through the states along the eastern seaboard in the 1790’s and wrote one of the earliest books by a foreigner on the new Republic, to the essays of recent observers like Evelyn Waugh, few visitors from abroad have neglected to comment on the American attachment to material goods and the desire to make a fortune as dominant characteristics of our society.[2]

But are such desires dominant always and everywhere? There is considerable evidence that they are not. If we consider simply modern examples from the Western world, we have Max Weber’s testimony about nineteenth century cloth merchants who worked “perhaps five to six [hours] a day, sometimes considerably less,” and were satisfied with moderate earnings, “enough to lead a respectable life and in good times to put away a little,”[3] and former Dutch Prime Minister Ruud Lubbers’s statement “that the Dutch are not aiming to maximize gross national product per capita [but] are seeking to attain a high quality of life, a just, participatory and sustainable society [in which] the number of working hours per citizen are rather limited [and] there is more room for all those important aspects of our lives that are not part of our jobs, for which we are not paid and for which there is never enough time.”[4] If it is true that most Americans want to “live at the level of the average doctor or big-league baseball player,” the reasons are certainly complex, but they definitely include the fact that our entire culture is permeated by the notion that acquisition of material goods is the summum bonum of man’s life. This idea is reinforced not just by advertising itself, but by most of the media which concentrates on new gadgets, fancy clothes, expensive vacations and the like. It would seem that Samuelson has simply taken a characteristic of his own culture and assumed it as a constant of human nature.

But let us consider another criticism of using scarcity as the starting point of economics. God has given mankind both the need for external goods and the capacity to produce or acquire them. Except in circumstances of drought or other natural disaster, one man has the ability to produce food or other goods which more than satisfy his own needs. If that were not the case, then no one in any civilization would ever have been able to devote his time to works of religion, or learning, or war, or government. But farmers and craftsmen were usually able to provide for themselves with something left over for others. What can we learn from this? We might learn that a possible starting point for economic analysis is the fact that God has given to the human race an ability to provide for its material needs and even something beyond our most basic needs so that we have been able to create high civilizations, works of art, and so on. Instead of scarcity, could we not regard mankind’s God-given economic sufficiency as the most basic economic fact? And if we do, then what implications might we draw from that?

If we realize that the average man has the capacity to produce more than the bare necessities of his life, the primary economic questions then concern the relationship between the work of primary production and the final consumption of the product, questions such as who owns the means of production, how are those who produce compensated and who decides on the amount of compensation, what goods are produced and how are they allocated to the ultimate consumers. I have written on most of these questions many times, and here I want to take up only one point suggested by our analysis. This is the question of unemployment.

If we look at the human race as a whole, or even one particular nation, according to the way of looking at economics suggested here, we see not an unlimited desire for goods and services, but a limited number of genuine human needs, even if it is not possible or desirable to specify these needs exactly. In other words, there is a certain amount of work that must be done to supply the human race with what it needs, and I do not mean simply to survive, but to live in a reasonable human manner, the frugal comfort that Leo XIII spoke of. Beyond that certain amount of work, whatever is produced is superfluous, unnecessary, strictly speaking a waste of time and resources. If all human needs could be supplied by every worker working 8 hours a day, five days a week, then it would be irrational for anyone to work more, except for work that is more in the nature of a hobby than a job. And likewise if we could supply our needs by working 6 hours, four days a week. The point is that if we look upon the economic process as God’s provision for supplying mankind with what we require to meet our external needs, then there is a limit on how much work needs to be done, even if this limit can never be specified exactly. Now what does this have to do with unemployment?

Unemployment means a mismatch between the number of workers and the number of jobs. But if we look at the economy in the way I suggest here, and think not about the number of jobs but rather about the amount of work that we need, there can never really be a mismatch between the amount of work to be done and the number of workers. Of course certain individuals may be unemployable, because of mental or physical disability, or even because of bad acquired habits. But aside from these comparatively rare instances, God has arranged things so that the amount of work to be done always corresponds more or less with the number of persons available for that work. If our human arrangements, our economic systems, our laws, our tax policies, obscure that God-given harmony between work and workers, we ought to change these human constructs so that they reflect better and more closely the order that God clearly intended. Of course sin, both original and actual, makes this difficult, but surely we can approach it better than we do now.

Note, moreover, that the more closely we adhere to this natural relationship between work and worker, the more we can avoid the constant expansions and contractions of capitalist business cycles. Such cycles exist because of the impetus, implicit in capitalism, toward overexpansion of corporations and firms, regardless of the economic needs of society, and they are complicated by the activities of financiers, legal and illegal, who prey upon both the public and the rest of the business establishment and manipulate legal and economic processes to their own advantage.

Distributism, on the other hand, is the best economic system by which to achieve this coordination between work and workers which I have been describing. Why is this? Because Distributism simplifies as much as possible that relationship. By encouraging micro-enterprises, operations in which the owner is the sole or chief worker, this relationship between the work to be done and the workers available can be seen more clearly than when this relationship is complicated by many layers of firms whose owners are not involved in the actual work and whose workers are hired and fired according to the expansions and contractions of business cycles. Capitalist firms do not hire workers according to any reasonable estimate of the true economic needs of a society, but rather according to their estimate of whether they can sell their own products, regardless of society’s needs. It is no wonder that under capitalism unemployment is a perennial problem, since there is little or no attempt to match our economic activity to reasonable human need, and thus to the available number of workers.

Of course I do not claim there would be perfection under a Distributist economy. Perfection in human affairs has not been possible since the Fall. But I do claim that we humans have unnecessarily complicated much that God has given to us. We have made life on earth much more difficult than it needed to be, even taking into account the Fall and original sin. Distributism is one way of undoing some of that complexity under which evil and oppression can flourish. As Pius XI noted,

At one period there existed a social order which, though by no means perfect in every respect, corresponded nevertheless in a certain measure to right reason according to the needs and conditions of the times.” (Pius XI, Quadragesimo Anno, no. 97)

A Distributist economy is the best means of regaining that vanished social order that Pope Pius spoke of and the easiest means of allowing the God-given and natural connection between work and worker to realize itself.

Notes

[1] Paul Samuelson, Microeconomics, 2001, p. 4

[2] Chicago, 1956, p. 27.

[3] The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, (Charles Scribner’s edition) pp. 66-67.

[4]. Quoted in Anders Hayden, “Europe’s Work-Time Alternatives” in John de Graaf, ed., Take Back Your Time: Fighting Overwork and Time Poverty in America, 2003, p. 202.

 

About the author: Thomas Storck

 

Thomas Storck is the author of Foundations of a Catholic Political Order, The Catholic Milieu, and Christendom and the West. His work has appeared in various publications including Homiletic and Pastoral Review and the book, Beyond Capitalism and Socialism. Mr. Storck is a former contributing editor of New Oxford Review and Caelum et Terra and serves on the editorial board of The Chesterton Review.An archive of Mr. Storck's writings can be found at www.thomasstorck.org.

 

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15 Comments

  1. Thank you Thomas for your insightful and informative explanations in regards to Distributism. I’ve enjoyed your comments over the years, and in light of the crisis that our government and country is in at present, your comments bring hope.

  2. Even with scarcity as a starting point, the endpoint of economics isn’t clear: one end could be to try to reduce everyone’s desires as much as possible.

  3. I found the beginning half of that article excellent Thomas, in a very easy to understand way you showed the obvious, spurious assumptions at the very beginning of modern economic analysis.

    I found the latter half quite good but I couldn’t help noticing that you begin your treatment of work with this comment;

    ‘Beyond that certain amount of work, whatever is produced is superfluous, unnecessary, strictly speaking a waste of time and resources. If all human needs could be supplied by every worker working 8 hours a day, five days a week, then it would be irrational for anyone to work more, except for work that is more in the nature of a hobby than a job. And likewise if we could supply our needs by working 6 hours, four days a week. The point is that if we look upon the economic process as God’s provision for supplying mankind with what we require to meet our external needs, then there is a limit on how much work needs to be done, even if this limit can never be specified exactly.’

    I couldn’t help but feel that you are allowing some of the prevalent, modern assumptions about work into your perspective. In particular that work is a bore to be avoided. I’m not suggesting you think this completely, but I just get the feeling from this comment that your analysis doesn’t totally repudiate such a position.

    Whereas man is made in the image of God and one of his most important qualities is to create and create, in his own lesser and appropriate way, as God creates(ie according to Christian principles.). Therefore work for man should be both a joy and an education. A joy because he is fulfilling one of his man purposes in life and an education because by creating according to Christian principles of creation and beauty he learns a deeper rational and Intellectual appreciation of these principles and this beauty and the Divine Love and Wisdom behind them. I’m not for a moment suggesting capitalism comes anywhere close to fulfilling this vision, indeed one of the greatest indictments against it should be that it doesn’t, but it is important that distributists and Christians do not fall into accepting the capitalist view of work, and therefore creation itself, as a necessary evil.

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  5. Wessexman,

    You wrote that “man is made in the image of God and one of his most important qualities is to create and create, in his own lesser and appropriate way, as God creates….”

    Well, yes and no. It depends to some degree on what you mean by work and creation. I’d already written that I was not speaking about “work that is more in the nature of a hobby than a job.” So if someone enjoys woodworking and making tables, etc., then well and good. Let him spend his leisure hours in that. But even for that, is there not a limit? I’ve known amateur (but still good) craftsmen who produce pretty good stuff, but after a while there aren’t enough relatives around to whom to give all the stools or tables that he’s made. And some of those relative have more than they want, but are reluctant to give them away for fear of offending their maker.

    Also you speak of the “the prevalent, modern assumptions about work.” that I may have. But I think that the notion that just because God is creative and produces works, we too should do so, always and everywhere apparently, smacks of certain neo-conservative authors of the 1980s and later. In any case, you’re probabaly familiar with Josef Pieper’s Leisure, the Basis of Culture. If one’s “work” is playing Bach with some friends, keep it up by all means. But if it’s making cheap suits or plastic toys, then there is a definite limit to what mankind needs, and I’d advise that he take up something else, learning another language, say, or a new musical instrument. I’m not sure that your comment about “one of [our] most important qualities is to create and create, in his own lesser and appropriate way, as God creates” is rooted in Christian tradition. But if you can find citations from earlier authors, I’ll gladly look at them.

    Upon reflection, I’m even more inclined to say that one would do better to read a good book than to produce work simply on the ground that thereby he’s imitating the actions of God.

  6. I didn’t mean to suggest either that man is simply to work all the time or that capitalist work has anything to do with the Christian idea of work, far from it.

    The Roman and indeed Western Church unfortunately began to symbolism and metaphysics for rationalism long before the reformation, but there is plenty of evidence in Western Christianity for this position. Are we not made in God’s image? Is not the universe formed by God’s intelligible wisdom? Everything we do should be related to God and everything we do, as true humans, is as a reflection of God and surely creation is key to the creator and work is a key part of human life?

    William Blake may not mean much to a Roman Catholic, but he was one of the most inspired Christian thinkers of recent centuries and a brilliant symbolist and as he said ‘A Poet, A Painter, A Musician, an Architect, the Man or Woman who is not one of these is no Christian’. And as Ananda Coomaraswamy, not a Christian but one of the greatest and most traditional philosophers of art, put it ‘the artist is not a special kind, but every man is a special kind of artist’.

    And as the Hermitica a major influence on Christian metaphysics, gnosis and symbolism, puts it;

    ‘If a man takes upon himself in all its fullness the proper office of his own vocation, it comes about that he and the world are the means of right order to each other..for since the world is God’s handiwork, he who maintains and heightens its beauty by his tending is cooperating with the will of God’

    And Dante gives these reasons for the wrongs of usurers(and one can see the influence on Aristotle.);

    ‘”Philosophy, to one who understands,
    Points out — and on more than one occasion —
    How nature gathers her entire course

    “From divine intellect and divine art.
    And if you pore over your Physics closely,
    You’ll find, not many pages from the start,

    “That, when possible, your art follows nature
    As a pupil does his master; in effect,
    Your art is like the grandchild of our God.

    “From art and nature, if you will recall
    The opening of Genesis, man is meant
    To earn his way and further humankind.

    “But still the usurer takes another way:
    He scorns nature and her follower, art,
    Because he puts his hope in something else.”‘

    I don’t think those are the usual influences of neoconservatives are they. ;)

    Now it must be repeated I’m talking about the Protestant work ethic or anything like the capitalist idea of work and production. In the middle ages there was no difference between the crafts and art, the difference we make today is one of the great indictments of capitalism. No I mean work done according to Christian principles, where work is an imitation of the Divine creation and Wisdom.

    As Aristotle puts it; ‘Art is essentially a reasoned state of capacity to make, and there is neither any art this not such a state nor any such state that is not an art, art is identical with a state of capacity to make, involving a true course of reasoning.’

    Or as the Angelic Doctor puts it; ‘Art, the idea of a thing to be made in the mind of the maker, is possessed most authentically by God.’

    And

    ‘Now the origin of works of art is the human mind, the image and issue of the divine mind which is the origin of natural things. Therefore the processes of art should imitate the processes of nature, and the works of art the works of nature.’

    And as the Seraphic Doctor puts it; ’11. By the same process of reasoning is Divine Wisdom to be found in the illumination of the mechanical arts, the sole purpose of which is the production of artifacts. In this illumination we can see the eternal generation and Incarnation of the Word, the pattern of human life, and the union of the soul with God. And this is true if we consider the production, the effect, and the fruit of a work, or if we consider the skill of the artist, the quality of the effect produced, and the utility of the product derived therefrom.’

    And as Etienne Gilson puts it; ‘A painting is the embodiment of a form(Platonic idea.) in a matter….whose ultimate end is to achieve a fitting object of contemplation’

    As can be seen this is an extremely severe criticism of capitalism. Capitalism, by removing the artistic qualities of traditional crafts, where dignified craftsman embodies true form in the correct materials in imitation of God’s wisdom and creation, is offensive to God’s purpose for man. I think distributism doesn’t always go far enough in its criticism of capitalism. I recommend the work of Brian Keeble, including his excellent Every Man an Artist, Readings in the Traditional Philosophy of Art.

  7. As it can be seen my quick attempt to find particularly evocative and informative passages to illustrate my point, I couldn’t find any direct ones from the Schoolmen, although I did find an excellent one from Dante, whose great work is the most sublime of scholastic theology in verse. However those quotes from the great Schoolmen on art illustrate both the traditional idea of true principles of art being the correct principles behind anything humans make, which itself implies that work should be done according to those principles and not capitalist utilitarianism, and that as it is clearly their view that when men’s intellect means he should make things according to his rational, spiritual capacities and as they believed, as men, it was our purpose to exercise our rational and spiritual capacities.

    But even leaving aside such high, but important, considerations, there is ample reason to think that distributist should not treat work as capitalists do. This, I believe, has been a theme of many fellow-travelers of distributism, like E.F Schumacher, Ruskin and William Morris. I think Chesterton made some interesting commentary, like his delightful essay on singing while one works, and of course Eric Gill have made similar argument, or at least left such implications. Work is such an important part of man’s life that it should not be something, as far as is possible, that he hates. It should be something done according that dignifies him as a human being, that he can at least not despise and can allow him to realise some of his creative capacities.

  8. Wessexman,

    Not sure if we’re disagreeing on substance or simply about words, but I don’t see anything in what I wrote opposed to St. Thomas’s statements on art. I still maintain that the amount of work (in the sense in which I was using the term) that mankind need do is limited, and that creative leisure, genuine human interaction, learning, prayer, etc., are sadly neglected, certainly here in the U.S. I don’t think this contradicts anything St. Thomas said. BTW, do you know the journal, New Blackfriars? The latest issue (July) has an article of mine on St. Thomas and art.

  9. I think you are correct and we are in agreement on most of these issues.

    I do think though that aims at leisure states, attempts to drop the hours of work too far and acceptance of the modernist idea of work as necessary evil is a bad move for distributists. True work is almost a kind of prayer, and we should ideally live a life of prayer without ceasing. That capitalism destroys this possibility for most in their working life, that it produces objectively ugly and frivolous output and cares little for the true creative dignity of man should be a major distributist attack on capitalism in my opinion.

  10. @ angelo: I believe the end of economics, as with all human activity, is glorification of God. We economize to glorify, and that requires sacrifice. Without sacrifice, glorification is not possible, because the condition of creation necessarily deteriorates.

  11. Jim,

    You wrote, “I believe the end of economics, as with all human activity, is glorification of God. We economize to glorify, and that requires sacrifice. Without sacrifice, glorification is not possible, because the condition of creation necessarily deteriorates.”

    Well, here is where Aristotelian/Thomistic philosophy is so helpful. The final end of man is the glory of God, but that doesn’t mean that each and every action we do has to have that specific end, PROVIDED THAT, none of our actions does anything against the glory of God. I don’t have to be thinking of the glory of God when I eat my breakfast, but if the food I’m eating is stolen from someone else, or was bought at unjust prices or raised/made in such a way that it damages God’s creation, or I’m eating more than I should, then I am acting against the glory of God and I am doing wrong. There is a hierarchy of ends in human acts, and provided that no act detracts from God’s glory, it has its own specific and proper end, but is part of a hierarchy of ends that leads up to God. So ultimately I’m eating to preserve my life according to his will and serve him, yes, but I needn’t focus on that as I’m sitting down to a nice meal that I hope to enjoy.

  12. I’d put a somewhat different perspective on the issue Tom, but perhaps this is natural because though I think very highly of Aristotle and Thomism I think even higher of Platonism and the Alexandrian and Cappadocian Fathers.

    I think ideally our life is one of ‘prayer without ceasing’, which does mean that every action should be viewed as a way of serving God and because God formed us in his image and the cosmos through his divine, intelligible word and Wisdom, as Origen reminds us, then everything we do and make,if we make sure we do and make it correctly, and everything we perceive can be, ideally, is authentically and ontologically symbolic of higher truths and in a sense a form of prayer and contemplation of the Divine.

    Of course it would only be a Saint, a mystic or a monk who ever tried to fully realise such a life, but for the rest of us we should at least try and make the most important aspects of our lives and societies conform, in some sense, to this framework. And work and production is certainly an important aspect of our lives and our societies and as the quotes from the Schoolmen themselves show they view the true Christian, philosophic act of making a work of art, and in the Middle Ages there was no difference between the arts and crafts(the idea of the fine arts and purely utilitarian manufactures are modern deviations and errors.) as dignifying, spiritually educational, Intellectual and symbolic(necessarily imitative of the Divine creative wisdom.). God and philosophy have a role to play not just in providing for an economy that strengthens families, but in the intimate workings of the economy, of work and of production/crafts/art as well.

    That capitalism and modernity seem to have forgotten even a shadow of remembrance of this Christian, philosophic status of art and work, and indeed of most aspects of society, and that our libertarians ‘friends’ have no inkling of this deficiency seems to me almost alone enough to condemn them all.

    It is not that important but it should be said that the spirituality of work and crafts was grasped, more or less, by many of the other great civilisations of the world, so you’ll find similar notions in traditional Egyptian, Greek, Mesopotamian, Indian, Chinese and Islamic thought.

  13. Wessesman,

    “in the Middle Ages there was no difference between the arts and crafts(the idea of the fine arts and purely utilitarian manufactures are modern deviations and errors.” If you’re able to get a copy of the New Blackfriars article I mentioned, you’ll find that I address some of these points there.

  14. I tried to access that journal through Google earlier but it wouldn’t appear to let me. Then I remembered that I could access it through my uni’s library site using my password.

    Having found the article I thought it was exceptional. Perhaps you are under some sort of obligation to the journal not to repeat that article, but it would be good to see it posted here because it is an exceptional rebuke to capitalism and modernity.

    I see a lot of similarities in your approach to the writers who have most influenced by view on the traditional arts and crafts, namely Ananda Coomarawsamy, Titus Burckhardt and Brian Keeble, who themselves often use the language and terminology of the Schoolmen.

    When you talk about purpose you’re making very a similar point to Burkhardt and Coomaraswamy, who talk about the key role form must play in a work of art;

    ‘It would be meaningless to seek to excuse the protean style of a religious art, or its
    indefinite and ill-defined character, on the grounds of the universality of dogma or the freedom of
    the spirit. Granted that spirituality in itself is independent of forms, this in no way implies that it
    can be expressed and transmitted by any and every kind of form. Through its qualitative essence,
    form has a place in the sensible order analogous to that of truth in the intellectual order; this is the
    significance of the Greek notion of eidos. Just as a mental form, such as a dogma or a doctrine,
    can be an adequate, albeit limited, reflection of a Divine Truth, so a sensible form can retrace a
    truth or a reality which transcends both the plane of sensible forms and the plane of thought.
    Every sacred art is therefore founded on a science of forms, or in other words, on the
    symbolism inherent in forms. It must be borne in mind that a sacred symbol is not merely a
    conventional sign; it manifests its archetype by virtue of a certain ontological law. As Ananda
    Coomaraswamy has observed, a sacred symbol is, in a sense, that which it expresses. For this
    very reason, traditional symbolism is never devoid of beauty. In the terms of a spiritual vision of
    the world, the beauty of an object is nothing other than the transparency of its existential
    envelopes. An art worthy of the name is beautiful because it is true.’ -Burckhardt.

    ‘As to the first, we need only say that the realism of later Renaissance and academic art is just what the Medieval philosopher had in mind when he spoke of those “who can think of nothing nobler than bodies,” i.e., who know nothing but anatomy. As to the sophisticated view, which very rightly rejects the criterion of likeness, and rates the “primitives” very highly, we overlook that it also takes for granted a conception of “art” as the expression of emotion, and a term “aesthetics” (literally, “theory of sense-perception and emotional reactions”), a conception and a term that have come into use only within the last two hundred years of humanism. We do not realise that in considering Medieval (or Ancient or Oriental) art from these angles, we are attributing our own feelings to men whose view of art was quite a different one, men who held that “Art has to do with cognition” and apart from knowledge amounts to nothing, men who could say that “the educated understand the rationale of art, the uneducated knowing only what they like,” men for whom art was not an end, but a means to present ends of use and enjoyment and to the final end of beatitude equated with the vision of God whose essence is the cause of beauty in all things. This must not be misunderstood to mean that Medieval art was “unfelt” or should not evoke an emotion, especially of that sort that we speak of as admiration or wonder. On the contrary, it was the business of this art not only to “teach,” but also to “move, in order to convince”: and no eloquence can move unless the speaker himself has been moved. But whereas we make an aesthetic emotion the first and final end of art, Medieval man was moved far more by the meaning that illuminated the forms than by these forms themselves: just as the mathematician who is excited by an elegant formula is excited, not by its appearance, but by its economy. For the Middle Ages, nothing could be understood that had not been experienced, or loved: a point of view far removed from our supposedly objective science of art and from the mere knowledge about art that is commonly imparted to the student.’-Coomaraswamy.

    I did think you could have been a little more explicit that purpose is in the end just another word for Form or Idea or Essence. Therefore through art, whether making it, patronising it or appreciating it is a form of education, an Intellectual appreciation of Form and the Divine Wisdom. Beauty is the splendour of the truth as the saying goes and to reinforce your point about the banality of high art divorced from purpose, from Form, modern art repudiates Form and therefore is irrational and not art; as Plato reminds us nothing that is irrational can be considered art. Beauty can only be logically and not in practice made distinct from purpose, or Form, so I’d go further than you and say that ultimately, as the process of separation continues, there are no such things as works of art that are simply beautiful and lack Form. Some people might find them pleasing, but to paraphrase Plato again, some people like deformity.

    Many essays of Coomaraswamy and Burckhardt are available online at WorldWisdom.com.

  15. Wessexman,

    “I did think you could have been a little more explicit that purpose is in the end just another word for Form or Idea or Essence.”

    This is an interesting idea. Aristotle did say that often the formal cause and the final cause are the same.