G.K.’s Weekly, August 31, 1929
The modern attack on Capitalism has come in practice to mean this: that the State shall become the Capitalist. The corresponding attack on Socialism has come to mean this: that the Capitalist shall become the State. Both are errors; but that which is considered the more revolutionary is very much the more respectable. It is the more traditional and even the more Conservative. Obviously there is more dignity in the first notion, that what already has the moral authority should take over the money power, than in the more ignoble notion that what has the money power should take over the moral authority. In theory the heresy of Communism is more orthodox than the heresy of plutocracy, which has no more moral authority than piracy. In practice there is precious little difference between them. We should all be alike servants of the State Capitalist or of the Capitalist State.
Nevertheless, it is well to realize why it is that they are both wrong in theory, that is, in theology. If the real reason has chiefly been pointed out by Catholic theologians, it is because, in the modern emotional mood, it begins to look as if there would be no theologians except Catholic theologians. Everybody else is so afraid of being called theoretical that he shrinks from being theological; and proudly professes a religion which he calls practical and some call sentimental. The pagans knew better; and he has truly been called a prophet of Christianity who said that it is the happiness of humanity to know the causes of things. To trace things to their root in reason is the only satisfactory preface to the evolutionary amusement of watching them grow. Now, beginning the argument where it really begins, in this fashion, the answer to Socialism is this: it is true that the State has moral authority. But it is not true, as all Socialism assumes it to be true, that the State is the only thing that has moral authority. Even more ultimate and moral than the State, in our view, are three things: the Family, the Church, and the sane and normal human conscience, which is the voice of God. And it is not because the State is too ideal to have authority, but because these things also have authority, and in some cases even against the State, that we deny the full logic of Communism. A sane man feels by a primary certitude that his Creator is above all princes and politicians, that his marriage is more sacred than casual social contracts, that his children are his own and that his property is not a legal fiction but a living need. These are very elementary and therefore eternal principles; but it is well sometimes to repeat them clearly like a creed; for though ninety-thousand newspapers repeat that the creeds have divided men, it remains true that nothing but a creed can unite them.
Concerning the creedless and therefore chaotic condition of the age, I will take only one of these ideas and consider how it appears in such a chaos. I will take the case of the institution of marriage. For a person who really does begin at the beginning, it is very puzzling to follow the arguments, or rather assumptions, of the common Communist or Collectivist. He never seems to have heard of anybody accepting the authority of the Family. But what is queerer still, he never seems to have heard of anybody disputing the authority of the State.
Absolutely, or in the abstract, it is very odd indeed. Here, on the one hand is something that I never asked to belong to, that I never promised to be faithful to, that I wake up and find myself in, like one in some fantastic prison over whose regulations I have really no control; something called England; or, if you will, Russia; or, if you will, Utopia. Anyhow, I did not enter it making any promises or accepting any conditions; I entered it as a helpless infant and I can never hope, by myself, to be anything but a hopeless minority. But I am apparently bound morally by the decisions of the majority, or whatever force really moves the majority. I must, by all the communal arguments, accept whatever is done to one by the community. I have no right to use my private judgment and hoard and hide my private property. The State is sacred; it is the only shrine the revolutionist has left standing; and why he has left it standing I do not know.
On the other hand, here is something that I did ask to belong to; that I did enter of my own free will; about which I did make promises and accept conditions; something which I made myself, and made knowingly and avowedly to restrain myself. It is called the married state; and I might perfectly well have entered such a state, and made such promises, without thinking about the Government, without knowing what Government I was under, or without being under any Government at all. I might have done it if I had met a woman wandering in a desert; if I had been shipwrecked with a woman on a desert island; if I had made a compact with a woman under a tyranny that was hounding us both to destruction; if I had made an exodus with a woman out of civilization that was breaking up and perishing like the Cities of the Plain. By every conceivable moral common sense, it seems to me, I am more bound by this personal bond of my own making than by the impersonal bond of society, which I do nevertheless accept as a social necessity. Yet a man might read a hundred modern novels, and a thousand modern newspapers, and never see a word suggested of this single point of view. In all those novels and newspapers, he will find it assumed automatically and incessantly that the vow made by the man himself counts for nothing, but that the absolution granted him by a little lawyer in a horsehair wig counts for everything. Horsehair is sacred, because it is the State, and nothing has any authority except the State; not even the Soul. That is the heresy of Socialism, which is not by any means confined to Socialists; but is now, indeed, the prevailing morality of Capitalists. And I repeat that, in the primeval light of common sense, it looks to me very funny.