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In 1935 Christopher Dawson published a wonderful article with the title “Catholicism and the Bourgeois Mind.”[1] His article seems more relevant to Catholics in North America today than ever, for we are confronted with more clearly demarcated cultural choices now than fifty, or even twenty years ago. Specifically, we see various subcultural groups espousing some of the ideas that Dawson considers a natural part of Catholic civilization, but, for the most part, these groups have no connection with the Church, are not aware of their sometimes profound sympathy with important elements of Catholic culture, and, more strange still, these groups and their way of life are rejected by otherwise zealous and orthodox Catholics. I will discuss this in more detail below, after a short summary of Dawson’s article.

Dawson begins by stating that bourgeois civilization and Catholic civilization are fundamentally opposed to each other. Today, though, our entire culture is permeated by bourgeois ideals, yet if we look back at an earlier age when the bourgeoisie were merely one element within society, we can discern the particular characteristics of the bourgeois mind, and see why that mind is so opposed to Catholicism.

Features of the Bourgeois Mind

The first feature of the bourgeois mind that Dawson notes is its urbanism.

It involves the divorce of man from nature and from the life of the earth. It turns the peasant into a minder of machines and the yeoman into a shopkeeper, until ultimately rural life becomes impossible and the very face of nature is changed by the destruction of the countryside and the pollution of the earth and the air and the waters.[2]

Secondly, the bourgeois spirit is characterized by a peculiar attitude toward economic life. Instead of having the love of the artist or the craftsman toward his work, the bourgeois regards the things he deals in as

external and impersonal. He sees in them only objects of exchange, the value of which is to be measured exclusively in terms of money. It makes no difference whether he is dealing in works of art or cheap ready-made suits: all that matters is the volume of the transactions and the amount of profit to be derived from them.[3]

Further, “the bourgeois is essentially a money maker, at once its servant and its master, and the development of his social ascendancy shows the degree to which civilization and human life are dominated by the money power.”[4] Dawson concludes his essay by explaining that a true Catholic civilization is dominated by a spirit of love, love for God, and expresses that love in vibrant art, music, and various other uneconomic means. Bourgeois civilization, on the other hand, will never rise above essentially worldly motives and maxims, such as “Honesty is the best policy,” etc.

Counterculture and Catholicism

Now I think that no one will fail to notice that certain of the traits mentioned by Dawson as unbourgeois and akin to Catholic culture are very much prized by certain groups in the United States today. I mean, of course, what is usually called the counterculture. The counterculture is not one single thing, but within it there are groups strongly emphasizing virtues such as the value of being close to “nature and… the life of the earth,” of not bringing about “the destruction of the countryside and the pollution of the earth and the air and the waters” and of having the attitude of the artist or craftsman toward one’s work. I think that it is very unfortunate that these people do not recognize their affinity with Catholic culture (an affinity manifested also on the pan of some by their attitude toward contraceptives, the government school system, cooperative economic enterprises, breast-feeding, etc.); this is a loss both for them and for us in the Church. They are deprived in the first place of the many benefits of membership in Christ’s Mystical Body, but also of the key to their critique of modern Western life; we are deprived of brothers in the Faith who have valuable things to teach us, but also of possible allies who could do much to help outflank our enemies, the secularists.

But there are only two ways these people could find out that Catholicism is their natural home. One is by reading about Catholic things: not only writers such as Dawson, Belloc and Chesterton, but even old manuals for Catholic parents which, e.g., recommended breast-feeding in the forties and fifties when almost no one was nursing her baby. But for numerous reasons few are going to discover these books. Even the most well-known are largely ignored by general establishment (bourgeois) culture, and unless they should come into contact with our Catholic subculture they will not even know that such a man as Dawson existed, much less what he had to say. Which brings me to the second way.

The other way these people of the counterculture could discover that Catholicism is their real home is by seeing that nearly all Catholics live lives which reject bourgeois values, and that there is a Catholic counterculture which militantly stands up for many of the values they hold dear, yet with more consistency and for more complete reasons. But, alas, where will they find such a body of Catholics? Of course, there are some groups that do exemplify all facets of Catholic culture, but they are not many. Rather, if they look towards Catholics in America they will likely see two groups, each engaged in articulating its vision of Catholicism, and each involved in a discussion of the many political, social and moral issues facing us today.

The first group is the heterodox neo-modernist clique, unfortunately so prevalent today. With them the people of the counterculture might at first feel some kinship, for the neo-modernists in general probably favor the counterculture in general, but only for the same reasons that non, Catholic secular liberals do; namely, because it is new, different, and (so they think) opposed to traditional Western civilization (by which they mean whatever was done and thought in 1955).

But were these heretics to take a good look at the counterculture (or at least at certain elements within it) I think they might be distressed at what they saw. So, though there doubtless is some fraternizing between liberal Catholics and counter-culturists, I think this is based on a superficial acquaintance by both parties as to the real aims of each group.

The other articulate group of Catholics in America is the one I am mainly concerned with here. This is the group which vehemently eschews dogmatic heterodoxy and adheres strongly to the Church’s magisterium. In addition to that, this group reads Catholic authors such as Dawson, Belloc and Chesterton. The members of this group, in many cases, attempt to steep themselves in Catholic culture and traditions. They are aware that there is a great gulf separating modern Western life from Catholic civilization. Yet, with some notable exceptions, members of this group sometimes seem to possess the bourgeois character to a greater degree than the population in general. They oppose, .e.g., not just the excesses of the environmentalists, but sometimes their entire cause; they tend to look upon the counterculture as useless, faddish, self-indulgent and eccentric, or at best utopian; too often they ally themselves with right-wing groups that are thoroughly bourgeois, that stand for laissez-faire capitalism and its concomitant attitudes and values. Only in their attitude toward contraception and their valuing of large families will there be found much of a bond with the counterculture. But why is this so? Why is it that these Catholics, who are in possession of the key to the correct critique of bourgeois culture, do not see the implications of that critique; while the counterculture intuits and feels the wrongness of certain things without any knowledge of the underlying principles of their rebellion?

As to the first of these questions, I think the answer has two parts. Orthodox Catholics very often reject things such as a craft approach to work and a concern for ecology, because those they see who promote these things in some cases also promote drugs, Eastern religion, unchastity, etc. Most people only with difficulty and a deliberate effort can separate in thought things they habitually see conjoined in fact. Yet it is perfectly possible for someone to believe some true things and some false things. And this is true of movements too; they can be in part right and in part wrong.

The second reason, I think, is simply that the way of life of most of the orthodox group of Catholics is so different from what the counterculture aspires to, that this strangeness creates a distrust and lack of sympathy. Since everyone living what is considered an ordinary life in the modern West is more or less thoroughly bourgeois (as Dawson points out), it is natural for orthodox Catholics, likewise leading this bourgeois existence, to see this kind of life as the norm. Age doubtless has something to do with it, since most people of a certain age were not affected by the experiences that produced the counterculture and have consequently little sympathy with it. And, as of this point, most people in the orthodox Catholic resistance, at least those who articulate its policies and goals, know of the counterculture only through reading.

What Can Be Done?

If the situation is generally as I suggest here, what can be done? Well, perhaps naively, I think we must begin both to evangelize the counterculture and enlighten our fellow Catholics. As the second begins to succeed, the first will be done more easily. Will it be easy to do the second? Probably not; yet really all it will take is to get them to pay attention to certain themes and passages in authors they already read. But I have greater hope that as more people whose formation was affected in a good way by the counterculture’s critique of American society attain positions of leadership or influence among orthodox Catholics, they will help cast off the present bourgeois associations and look to the counterculture, both to teach and to learn.

End Notes

1. Reprinted in Christopher Dawson, The Dynamlcs of World History (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1956) p.200-212.

2. Ibld., p. 202-203.

3. Ibld., p. 203.

4. Ibld., p. 204.


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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  1. I think this is a fabulously insightful article. I am not a Catholic, but I believe, that if Catholicism were defined in spirit as the “Middle Ages”, then I am Catholic. There are hundreds of thousands of evangelicals who epitomize the bourgeois values of “brass, buttons, and brasserie” (as the Marxists derided it), who deride the “Greens”, some of whom are now disgusted with environmentalism and are turning to “do it yourself” conservatism. This group represents Catholicism as much in spirit as the “orthodox” evangelicals who are worried about the Economy. What about some Catholic leadership here? I want to join the Church, but the last time I went, they were singing praise and worship songs; who there could tell me of the Logos? Those who want to defend Western Civilization ought to consider such writing as this:
    When the Catholics unite and defend Traditional doctrine of a truly metaphysical nature, you will lose many, but you will gain what you think you are giving up – namely “Western” civilization, which was only the embodiment of Tradition as defended in the Middle Ages by countless theologians who knew the Logos.
    Restore the altars and the thrones.

  2. The best article I’ve read here in some time. I sympathize with all parties, am a reader of Belloc especially but others as well, and find myself interested in reading more of Dawson. I grew up immersed in counterculture, being 28, but joined the army as an officer and deployed to both major wars of our time. I consider myself a budding orthodox Catholic, and hope to grow into the kind of leader this article calls for,Lord willing. As such, the article speaks to me. Please keep the wisdom flowing. One request I have to the authors here in general is more material on usury. I am reading a book that surely influenced Belloc, called Usury: A Scriptural, Ethical, and Economic View, by Calvin Elliott. It is free on Amazon kindle and i can’t recommend it enough. God Bless and happy New Year.

  3. I too greatly appreciated this article. I am a conservative Anglican who is learning a lot from Belloc, Chesterton, and even Dorothy Day. However, as I have looked at the Roman Catholic Church, I have sadly seen the dichotomy the author describes. On the one hand, the liberals– sort of the equivalent to the mainstream Episcopal leadership within my own tradition. Then, there’s the “conservative” American Catholics of EWTN, the Acton Institute, etc. who strike me as little more than the Republican Party at prayer. Where are the orthodox but countercultural Catholics this article describes? That sounds truly appealing.

  4. Dave, don’t give up, try a Latin Mass parish!

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  6. Great article and good question at the end.

    “Dawson concludes his essay by explaining that a true Catholic civilization is dominated by a spirit of love, love for God, and expresses that love in vibrant art, music, and various other uneconomic means.”

    One other question is how do we get orthodox Catholics to notice the issues with the bourgeois mindset when our liturgy, music, art, and architecture seems completely bourgeois. And if you attempt to point something like this out, you are accused of being a pharisee who cares only for externals while disregarding the genuinely important matters of the heart.

    Thus I hope and pray that in the future our liturgy and all that goes with it will reflect a heart and mind which wishes to be extravagant towards God rather than merely adequate and tolerable.

  7. My thanks to all who made favorable comments on this article. The strange thing is that this is an old article of mine, originally published in Social Justice Review in 1983, which is why I spoke of the counterculture as something still active. But the problem I described then is still with us, unfortunately. The only way of addressing it is for more and more Catholics, even if only a handful at present, to embrace authentic Catholic culture and reject the bourgeois compromise as best we can. To seek for orthodoxy and reject all forms of liberalism, including the kind known as conservatism.

    With regard to the comment about the Latin Mass. I attend a Latin (Tridentine) Mass, and recognize its superiority in every respect to the ordinary liturgy, and I recommend it strongly for all Latin Catholics. However, don’t expect most people who attend a Latin liturgy to understand the points you’ve made here, Dave. You’ll find all sorts of motivations among them, and the quality of the liturgy itself will vary greatly depending on the celebrant’s understanding of these matters and his sensibilities. Where you have a high Mass, or even a solemn high Mass, every Sunday, there you have the real spendor of Catholic life and truth expressed and grasped by all the senses, sight, hearing, even smell. But I’m afraid that not all of those who attend such a Mass appreciate what one can call the “cosmic” aspects of the liturgy, i.e., the offering of all creation to Jesus Christ, the God-Man, who sums up in himself the totality of the created order and unites it to his Godhead.

  8. Dave, if you live in an urban area, the “countercultural” Catholics may be hard to find, especially in the northeast. But in rural areas, I think you will find many such Catholics living on farms and raising large families of homeschooled children.

    As far as being the “Republican party at prayer”, if you read the Democratic Party platform it would be hard for any Catholic faithful to the Magisterium to justify supporting the Democratic Party.

  9. “To seek for orthodoxy and reject all forms of liberalism, including the kind known as conservatism.” Amen! GREAT article. Thank you!

  10. Just add my thanks to your and this site for my also budding orthodoxy. I wasn’t even Catholic in 1983 when you first published this article, but it is my hope that such articles will hone and define my Catholic identity for years to come.

    Oh, and I appreciate your comments regarding the TLM, even though I am aa Byzantine Catholic and chose that for the same reasons that you understadn and love the TLM.

    God bless you, Brother Storck

  11. An interesting thing that Dr. Rowland notes in one her books on the thought of Pope Benedict XVI is the Bourgeois v. Aristocratic/Erotic distinction – Rowland notes that erotic means being passionate about life and perfection, not sex-addiction. Good Catholics seek to be Aristocratic because they want to attain spiritual perfection and the are driven by Love and transcendental ideals (no room nominalist philosophy here!). Thus we seek the Good, the True, and the Beautiful and this yearning is expressed in our liturgy and our culture.

    Calvinists tend to bourgeois, meaning they want to get by – how many days a week do I attend church service; how much money makes me ‘saintly'; what rules do I absolutely have to obey??? – thus an emphasis on utilitarianism and dry, if not bad, sense of beauty.

  12. Thank you, everyone for your thoughts. I would love to attend a Latin Mass at some point. Although in Latin, it actually seems, structurally, more similar to the 1928 BCP Mass I am used to at my Anglican parish than the contemporary Roman Mass.

    Mr. Chappell, I was, by no means, suggesting the Democratic Party as a viable option to the Republican Party. I was not criticizing the Republican Party for its conservatism, but rather for its particular variety of conservatism, which, from reading this article, I believe Dr. Storck would call a variety of boureois liberalism.

  13. I think we need to each find out what God wants of us and everything else will fall into place.

    Bourgeois = utilitarian view of life.

    ‘Waste’ your prayers and concerns on those who are not ‘worth’ it. That is the most counter-cultural activity I can think of.

  14. Dave: And I was not endorsing the Republican party except by default. The Republicans as well as the Democrats are dominated by a bourgeois liberal mindset.

    Especially in regards to Mr. Stork’s second point. Politicians talk about jobs and job providers as if all jobs were equal and interchangable. A doctor is a farmer is a teacher is a steelworker is a waitress.

  15. Matthew,

    It’s true that most Catholics have no notion of the riches contained in the Catholic faith. But that is no reason not to become a Catholic. You will be united not just with the Church Militant (or sometimes not so militant) but with the Church Triumphant in heaven and the Church Suffering in purgatory – and you will have all the riches of Catholic worship, intellect and art, even if your own parish fails to live up to what it should.

  16. I’ll add to my above comment this quotation from the Bavarian Jewish psychiatrist and Catholic convert (1943), Karl Stern, in his book, The Pillar of Fire, 1951. “The Catholic Church is a church of the multitude. Consequently the outsider, approaching her, faces a thick layer of mediocrity.”

  17. Dave138,

    We are out there, not just in Latin Mass parishes, but we are out there. We are mostly young, and under 30. The baby-boomers are missing from our circles.

    I personally do not see the point of a church that resembles the culture. It would not be the sign of contradiction that the Gospels speak off. I would sooner be an atheist.

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  19. This really is a wonderful vision for Catholicism in North American Europe – for that is the population we’re talking about. It seems to me, though, that we could take this a step further: it seems to me that Catholicism is not merely something that can ally itself with the reigning counter-cultural movement, but rather that it is one of the most genuine counter-cultures existing today.

    I have spoken with many Orthodox thinkers and priests who feel similarly. Orthodoxy is, they insist, counter-cultural – in some cases, they use this fact to contrast it with Catholicism. I do not see such a dichotomy. It seems to me that there is more that binds us to Orthodoxy than what cleaves us apart – and as such, all forms of orthodox Christianity truly represent something that, when facing the bourgeoisie (which I believe springs from Protestantism vis-à-vis Weber), is counter-cultural because it represents something abhorrent and anathema to the established culture of bourgeois materialism and individualism.

    One means of evangelisation of the counter-cultural movement has already been undertaken by Orthodoxy, in the form of a zine called “Death to the World” . I wonder if this is along the lines of what Mr. Storck is calling for in his closing paragraph.

  20. “it seems to me that Catholicism is not merely something that can ally itself with the reigning counter-cultural movement, but rather that it is one of the most genuine counter-cultures existing today.”

    Our aim is to convert an entire culture, so in this sense we are hoping to undo, as it were, bourgeois culture, to christianize it. I remember the first time I was in Ireland, in 1983, when the culture was still pretty Catholic. I felt very much at home, and didn’t have the feeling of alienation I always have in the United States. Alienation is not a good, per se, although at times it is necessary and the only stance that one can take.

    When I wrote this article, in 1983, it wasn’t clear, at least to me, that the genuine counterculture, as contrasted with a commercialized and self-indulgent version, was pretty much already dead. But I agree, genuine Catholicism is counterculture to bourgeois culture.

    I’m not familiar with “Death to the World,” but I’ll take a look at it.

  21. Savvy,

    at 35, I’m in your demographic. I also agree with what you say about the church not looking like the culture– although I did return to a variety of Christianity from a lifestyle of college hedonism via a very contemporary Calvary Chapel/ Vineyard type church. After a spiritual crisis and much reading of church history, I’ve ended up at a very conservative “Continuing” Anglican parish. Catholicism and Orthodoxy are both alluring, but the choice is also perplexing. I heard the arguments of both sides and met people who were intransigently passionate for both positions. It’s one of those dilemmas I think only the Holy Spirit can solve.

    Although I agree that our generation is largely done with the baby boomers and their guitar masses, I can only hope that, as we move in a more traditional direction, we can be more graceful to one another than various traditionalist groups have been in the past. A “fundamentalist” and reactionary attitude is easy to develop, no matter one’s position, which is what makes me simultaneously attracted to and frightened by such groups. Bringing it back to the topic of this discussion, my main attraction to Distributism is that is really seems to be based on love, the intrinsic value of the individual as possessing the imago dei, and the desperately needed sense of community and rootedness that springs from such love– something dreadfully lacking in both socialism and modern post-industrial capitalism.

    On another note, I also wonder if another characteristic of our demographic isn’t education. Personally, I possess two Masters degrees, one in a liberal arts, area, and I work in academia. Many of those I have known who have turned to Orthodoxy, traditional Anglicanism, and Roman Catholicism have a similar background. To truly change a culture, we also need to reach the working class, the common people (which I don’t use disparagingly– I’m only one generation removed), who, at least in my area (the American South), are almost exclusively Baptist or Pentecostal.

  22. Dave138,

    I understand your concerns about reactionary attitudes and fundamentalism.

    While, I admire tradition, I do not find anything wrong with Guitar Masses or different forms of worship. These can exist within the bounds of orthodox worship too.

    The parish I attend, has youth groups that look very “trendy” on the outside, but when you talk to them, you would be amazed at their depth of spirituality. I have found the same in charismatic groups.

    The Spirit blesses each one with different gifts. The challenge is in balancing them. It’s like a painting that’s free, but the frame still defines it’s boundaries. This is why I think church approval and regulation is important.

    The irony is that it was a charismatic style youth group that helped me grow, to draw me towards discerning a vocation to contemplative/monastic life. I am still trying to figure out where God is leading me. Where I can best use the talents that God has given me.

    I work in the media, so most of the people, I interact with are not religious. I am tired of being a closet Catholic, and would certainly like a place or space where I do not have to worry about this.

  23. Dave138,

    I will also add, that when so many Catholics cannot tell the difference between an ordained priest and a Protestant minister, tradition can help them out of this confusion.

    For example, when I hear the arguments for women priests, it sounds like what these people want is not a priest. I doubt they themselves know what they want.

  24. Thank you Thomas Stork and the Distributist Review. I wish more Catholics can learn about these issues. I am curious as to why the Distributist Review does not host a Forums and a Wiki. These would help to better involve your readers/audience. (For e.g. Richard Aleman’s article is less than a month old and I cannot make comments on it. It may be old as compared to other newer articles here, but if you had the Forums it would be easier to open a new Thread/Topic.)

    Finally, I am sure if you guys can create some videos and post it on YouTube the DR would have a much larger audience. The guys at the Chesterton Society seem to be really successful in this regard.

  25. O.O.,
    Thank you for your comments and suggestions. We are currently trying to work out details on how to improve the site and the services we provide. We hope our readers will be patient with us and understand that we engage in this around the needs of our families and jobs.

  26. Andromedus,
    In addition to the articles we have on usury, I found George O’Brien’s “Essay on Medieval Economic Teaching” very helpful with the concept of usury. Thank you for pointing out “Usury: A Scriptural, Ethical, and Economic View,” by Calvin Elliott. I haven’t yet read that but will do so.

  27. Thank you David Cooney. I hope I did not sound impatient. I appreciate the job you are doing ;). You’ll have some really good stuff which I thought should get a larger audience.

    Thomas Storck:
    I wanted to make another comment to this article. I think the group of Catholics who adhere to the Magisterium but hold bourgeois ideas are in some way influenced by the fundamentalist/conservative protestants. They accept what they believe is Christian conservatism and regard it as an orthodox part of the faith. (I have had discussions on these topics with some of them in the past and they asked me how I could be a Catholic, and told me I drank too much of the “cool aid”.)

  28. This article, for me, raises more questions than it answers. For example, what exactly is the urbanism that is condemned? Is it city life, generally speaking, as Father McNabb seems to condemn in his texts, or is it the type of city life that sprawls out into suburbs and which, in attempt to be away from the city, makes everything the city, and destroys nature, which even Jane Jacobs condemns in her work in praise of cities, “The Death and Life of Great American Cities”? If it is McNabb’s view, how can justify that as party of the Christian message, when Christianity has always been in cities and never required abandoning them of its members? If the latter, then it seems calling the problem “urbanism” insufficient.

  29. “I drank too much of the “’cool aid.'”

    The kool-aid drinking is in thinking that “conservatism” is a package deal, and the bourgeoisie get to define what’s in the package and tell you that you have to accept it. For instance, some assume that if one is staunchly pro-life, one must also accept corporatism, war, globalism, usury, etc.

    I know Thomas Frank is a liberal, but I can’t help thinking there’s something to the argument he makes in “What’s the Matter With Kansas?” As Americans who strongly (and correctly) believe in such issues as the right to life, I think conservative Catholics, like Evangelicals and Fundamentalists, often believe the lie that they have to accept everything that the Republican party spouts as a package– a monolythic whole. I think this may be why you see so many people from the Acton Institute and various other talking heads of the bourgeois right on EWTN.

    I also think some of the problem spills over from the very idea of the culture wars in general. “Conservatives” and “liberals” have come to have such antipathy for one another that each are afraid to champion any cause that might make them look too much like the other–for instance, the idea that a “conservative” cannot be a moderate environmentalist or anti-war in certain instances, because that’s so “lefty.” Thus, if one dares diverge from the party line in any manner, one risks the accusation of “drinking the kool-aid” of the other side.

    This is why, for me, sites/journals such as the Distributist Review, Front Porch Republican, and the American Conservative can be such a breath of fresh air.

  30. A few remarks on recent comments. I don’t think Dawson is condemning cities as such, nor am I. I recommend his essay, “The Evolution of the Modern City,” also in Dynamics of World History, in which he points out that earlier cities depended on their surrounding countryside to supply their needs – and this provided a built-in limit to their growth – but that cities since sometime in the 19th century have been able to import food, etc., from all over the world and thus grow with no limit. It’s the latter that is bad, not cities in themselves. Please remember that I wrote this essay in 1983 and have not revised it since.

    I’d like to suggest to Dave138 that he reconsider the entire notion of being a “conservative Catholic.” It’s orthodoxy that should be our standard, not conservatism. There are at least two problems with being conservative. One is that it links us with a secular political movement which has no connection with Catholic faith, the other that the Church does not take conservatism as its fundamental principle. Yes, the Church preserves the Apostolic teaching, but sometimes she embraces new ways of thinking, e.g., Thomism, which went against the Platonic-Augustinianism which had hitherto dominated Catholic thought. But St. Thomas recognized that Aristotle provided a better basis for the philosophical underpinnings of Christian thought, and he did not hesitate to use Aristotle, albeit purged of anything contrary to the Faith.

  31. Dr. Storck, I appreciate your gentle correction. Conservative is probably the wrong term. I found what you wrote about the shift from Platonic-Augustinianism to Thomism very interesting. I have to admit that I am a rank beginner when it comes to this stuff. Do you have any suggestions for books which could better acquaint me with the history of Western thought? I know this is a broad question and a tall order. One friend of mine recommended a book called The Passion of the Western Mind by Richard Tarnas. I’ve also recently begun trudging through Jaroslav Pelikan’s series on the history of the development of doctrine, and I know he gets into Western Medieval theology in Vol. 3. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Thank you again for posting this article.

  32. The problem of modern urbanization is that it’s gone too far. There are benefits to be sure but we have lost a lot too. The subsidizing of farms to the extent we have it now has contributed to the breakdown of the family as fathers and mothers have to go off to work to support their families. We’ve have become so disconnected from our food and material goods that we have lost a sense of their value. Most of us have no real sense of what it takes to produce such things and have become careless in our use of them. We have lost our sense of solidarity with our fellow man and truly is it any wonder we live in such a culture of death when we cannot connect the things we enjoy to the people who have made them possible.

  33. With regard to the problem of urbanization, might I suggest that the problem has to do also with the type of cities we build?
    It strikes me that starting in the 19th century we abandoned the wisdom of the ancients as regarding cities – narrow streets and dense building patterns were replaced with overblown, hypertrophic modernism, cut off from any connection with a human scale. The addition of the automobile resulted in the disastrous pattern of 20th century urbanism, defined by windswept, litter-strewn asphalt and an atomised society.
    If anyone is interested in this topic, I can recommend ‘A Pattern Language’ (available for free online here:http://www.patternlanguage.com/leveltwo/patternsframegreen.htm?/leveltwo/../apl/twopanelnlb.htm) and also the work of J.H. Crawford here: http://www.carfree.com/ His books are excellent as well.

  34. Dave138- I don’t think education is actually that much a part of it. I know many people in my area that never finished college, and are leading the change of culture. Most of them are blue collar, broke, and tired of the game by 30.

  35. Dave138,

    Here are some books I’d suggest, some are probably out of print. Etienne Gilson, Reason and Revelation in the Middle Ages; G. K. Chesterton, St. Thomas Aquinas; Christopher Dawson, The Making of Europe, and indeed, almost any book by Dawson. David Knowles, The Evolution of Medieval Thought; various of Hilaire Belloc’s books, though they are uneven. These are good starters, I think.

  36. This is certainly an extremely thought provoking essay. Indeed, I’ve been thinking about it every since I read it several days ago.

    I think the reason that I’m finding it so thoughtful is that it puts into context a series of things I’ve frequently observed myself, but in a very concrete and concise manner. Those things are that, as a rural person from a rural background, there’s something extraordinarily false and distressing about modern urban life and the headlong race we are in to make things ever more urban. And as a Catholic in one of the professions, whose father was a Catholic and a professional, I’ve often felt badly out of place amongst those whose focus is so material and money-centric. Indeed, I’ve often noted to my wife that while I’m widely respected for my talents, my lack of a really mercenary drive has made me a man out of my time.

    As for creating a more Catholic agrarian worldview, I’m afraid I’m not optimistic, except to the extent that it seems to me that a lot of the money focused folks leading our charger into materialism are pretty miserable at heart.

  37. Yeoman,

    I’m afraid that I’m much less optimistic than when I wrote this article nearly 30 years ago. But as many of the saints have taught us, we’re simply to do our part, as best we can, and leave the rest to God.

  38. I’d actually missed the fact that you originally ran the article 30 years ago, which explains some of the references I was wondering about a bit.

    Yes, in the past 30 years we’ve really gone over the bourgeoisie edge, Catholics included.

    It’s always tempting to imagine a past Golden Age that never existed, but one thing that seems to me to have been the case some time ago, and by that I basically mean the period running up into the 1970s, is that many, maybe most, Catholics who would have been regarded as bourgeoisie economically were not socially, perhaps due to the recent status of their families as “working class.” My father, for example, was the first person in his family to obtain a university degree, and he then obtained a professional degree, but he remained very humble and never was driving by money or material acquisition. This was also true of his numerous Catholic friends. Catholic doctors and dentists, for example, all lived pretty modest lives and they all treated a lot of people of low means for free. Nothing was ever said about it. By the 1980s this was passing away and by the time I entered the work force with a professional degree in the 90s it was rapidly dieing. I recall even receiving a bit of a minor lecture about that being an “alternative path,” by an economically successful Catholic, with the suggestion being that it wasn’t the path that person had taken. It also seemed to be the case, at that time, that there Protestant members of the same professions who were much more money and material driven.

    Now, the concept of modesty in wealth and materials is all but dead amongst most Catholics. We’re as Protestant Work Ethic and Wealth=value as anyone else. And as a result it’s often hard to recognize our Catholicity.

  39. Yes things have changed a lot in the last 30 years but I hope, Mr. Storck, that perhaps you can be encouraged by those of us who are commenting here. Things often get worse before they get better and I am seeing many more people who are open to the idea that what we have been doing is not working. There are a lot of us who, despite working hard for a very long time, have only continued to feel more and more disenfranchised by the current system.

  40. “I hope, Mr. Storck, that perhaps you can be encouraged by those of us who are commenting here.”

    As a matter of fact, I’ve been very surprised by the tone of the comments, mostly very positive, even laudatory. I am thankful that many Catholics, some of whom perhaps weren’t even born in 1983, find this vision attractive.

  41. Yeoman, part of difference between the era you describe and now seems to be that as the majority of our immediate neighbors have been lifted out of poverty, there has been less an urgency to live simply in order to share wealth with others. I might feel obligated to give food to a family in need, but if I see them wearing designer jeans and watching satellite TV, I might be less inclined, given there misuse of their own money.

  42. That is indeed part of the difference. Most American poor are less impoverished, as odd as that may sound, than they were now. Additionally, a fairly large section of the middle class now edges up towards being out of that class on the upper end of the economic spectrum, which is part of the reason that there’s been such a fit recently about raising taxes on a group of individuals who are, by real terms, rich.

    But with all of that, it also seems that the middle class, which has been the traditional reservoir of values in the country to a significant extent, has become much more “cheap” and “plastic” if you will. They’re still the most numerous class, and still the most significant in terms of defining values, but as an increasing number has lived towards the upper end of the middle class, the emphasis on materialism has become massive.

    Whatever its pluses and minuses otherwise, there was a general consensus in earlier years that things were geared towards the middle of the middle class and, if you go far enough back (50 years or more now, in our society) providing for your family was the emphasis. The tax structure was designed and generally agreed on by society, to tax pretty significantly at the upper end, and there was not thought that pushing into the upper class was either a widespread goal for everyone or a societal goal in general. In the 1980s that really began to break down and with the “Me” Generation of the 70s in full flower, the “Greed is good” ethos arrived and has never left us. Now the majority of the American middle class aspire to wealth or, if they do not, the aspire to live as though their wealthy, even if it takes credit to do it. Children being raised in this environment are left with the idea that they much achieve wealth and have next to no connection with anything else.

    That would be the distributist challenge today. In order to have a rightly ordered economic regime, you’d need to have people concede that their individual careers, designed to acquire materials, was not the most important thing in the world. With a couple of generations now that have no attachment to place, acquisition as a value, and who conceive of being involved as belonging to an organization or buying a magazine, with no personal action on their part, that’ll be tough.

  43. Yeoman, I agree with much of what you said. However, if I might make two qualifications to it. 1) You describe a “group of individuals who are, by real terms, rich” but who do not want to be taxed as if they are. Before I say this, I want to make clear I am not endorsing any particular tax plan one way or the other, but I do think it needs to be said that a Catholic family in that tax bracket which has multiple children is not “rich” if they intend to send their children to college, for they will receive no financial aid due to their wealth but for whom college will be a real burden. 2) It is not clear to me whether you think that all in this sector of wealth creation are guilty of greed and have become cheap and plastic, reduced to lacking any real Catholic principles and that that necessary flows from such a lifestyle stemming from modern life, or whether that is not a necessary connection between the pro-modern lifestyle and materialism.

  44. Donatio, excellent qualifications.

    I agree on your analysis in regards to families with dependents, and not just children, but parents as well who depend on them. Each circumstance is unique. But there are plenty of people who have no children at all, and incomes that exceed $200,000. To pretend that these people are in the “middle class” is to engage in self delusion, but nearly the entire society is now doing that.

    On your second point, no, I do not feel that all with high incomes, to include some who are fantastically wealthy, are greedy or false. But what I do think is the case is that the entire society is now basically engaged in maintaining acquisition of wealth as our principal value. This predominates over everything else, including familial obligations, obligations to spouse and children, and even the health of our planet.