February, March, April 1999:
and FreedomFeaturing a new section, "Ownership
No writings could be more of
a challenge to the reader than C. H. Douglas's of the 1940s. The style is compressed,
elliptical, and allusive; the order of treatment is anything but systematic; and
the transitions are bewildering. Douglas had by this time so internalized his
ideas that everything is connected to everything else, and he expects the reader
to make connections that are by no means obvious.
The titles of his works of this period are "Whose Service Is Perfect
Freedom," 85 pages; The Big Idea, 76 pages; The "Land
for the (Chosen) People" Racquet (about British land law), 43 pages;
The Programme for the Third World War, 60 pages; The Brief for the Prosecution,
92 pages; Realistic Constitutionalism, 12 pages; The Realistic Position
of the Church of England, 15 pages; and The Development of World Dominion
(excerpts from the Social Crediter, edited by Douglas's successors Dr. Tudor Jones
and Dr. Bryan Monahan), 161 sections.
good brief statement of Douglas's main thesis is the following: "World Politics
are (irrevocably, we think) committed to the centralisation of Power. We are committed
irrevocably to the decentralisation of Power to the limits of the capacity of
the individual. The first Policy postulates the equality of all men and women;
the second recognises the absolute individuality and increasing differences of
every human being. . . . Our task is not to capture politics, but to fragment
them" (Development of World Dominion 112).
Another passage that usefully gathers Douglas's major themes in short compass
is the following: "We have to discard the idea that every child is born into
the world to mind someone else's business, and substitute the fact that he is
responsible for minding his own. . . . The next point is equally simple and far-reaching-that
groups are inferior to individuals. Majorities have no rights and generally are
not right. They are an abstraction to which it is impossible to impart the qualities
of a conscious human being. . . . It is only possible to associate, i.e., to form
a majority, for the purpose of a function-'we descend to meet'. . . . Socialism
is the complete rule of the individual by functions" (Big Idea, p.
58f.; my edition has 76 pages; if using a different edition, multiply 58 by the
last page in your edition and divide the result by 76 to get a near location;
ditto for all titles).
attitude toward the relationship of the individual to the group is based, both
implicitly and explicitly, on a Christian anthropology. Though habitually reticent
about matters religious, it is clear that for Douglas, the coming of the God-Man
defines the priority of the individual over the group, as indicated in the following
It does seem to me
to be difficult to have a plainer and flatter repudiation of collectivism in all
its aspects, and of the idea that an organisation can absolve an individual of
the responsibility for his actions, than the statement "He took upon Himself,
the sins of the world [Society]."
in (?into) Adam (. . . Mankind, Collectivity) all men (individuals) die, so in
Christ (Individual Consciousness and responsibility) all Men (Individuals) are
"Render unto Caesar
that which is Caesar's, and unto God that which is God's." Caesar is, of
course, functionalism, and if functionalism can be made paramount, if the Will
can be paralysed by the Arm, if "The Good which I Will I do not" can
be made uniform by the omnipotence of the atavistic Group over the emergent individual,
then indeed the Devil is triumphant. (Big Idea, p. 65; "Land for
the [Chosen] People" Racket, p. 41; Development of World Dominion
The individual soul is the center
of the universe; the group is derivative, limited, contingent. The -tion ending
of association makes it an action word, "associating." The individual
soul is the substantial reality, whereas the association is merely the doing of
something by individuals. If the doing assumes a life of its own, with needs and
demands of its own (the result of some individuals' identifying themselves with
the "group"), the group becomes a tyranny.
Douglas viewed the fashionable theory of Darwinism with this anthropology
in mind: "The theory of Evolution, as generally understood, with its associated
idea of Progress is in direct opposition to the facts of entropy. . . . It has
always appeared to us to be axiomatic that all genuine progress is conscious,
the result of directed effort. Darwinism, as generally understood, is an automatic,
deterministic, process, similar or identical with entropy, and in opposition to
conscious effort towards an objective, [a process] which is not evident in environment"
(Development of World Dominion 62).
However, "there is, in a certain type of metaphysics, a theory, or
rather statement, that animals have a 'Group' soul, and that the real test of
difference between the animal kingdom and the human race is the individuality
of the human soul. That is to say, the first 'duty' of the human being is to dominate
his relationship with the group soul. This means, if it means anything, that the
supreme aim of evolution is differentiation, and that the determined effort to
present human beings, as a collectivity, is the Sin against the Holy Ghost, for
which there is no forgiveness [cf. "the Devil is triumphant" above].
"Now this idea has a curious corollary.
It implies that organisation is a descent-a retrogression. I do not think that
it necessarily implies that organisation is inadmissible, if done consciously
and with full understanding by those who are organized. But it seems to me to
offer a very important explanation of the inevitable degradation which accompanies
large organizations. It is not human nature which is at fault-that is just exactly
what it is not. It is the prostitution of human nature to a lower order of evolution-the
group soul" (Big Idea, p. 19). He cites the authority of Gustave Le
Bon, "one of the most thoroughgoing exponents of the empirical technique,"
for the phenomenon that individuals will do things in crowds that they would shrink
from doing on their own (Development of World Dominion 42, 156).
Marx, like Darwin, coupled the ideas of determinism and progress. And the
Darwinian struggle for existence among animals is mirrored, in the Marxian vision
of human history, by war. "The type of society which is induced or produced
by this type of thinking," observes Douglas, "bears marks resembling
the workings of the thermodynamic principle of entropy-the tendency of energy
to deteriorate from a potential to a latent and unavailable state-to 'run down'.
That is to say, so far from this systematic penalising of minorities under the
entirely unproved theory that the equalitarian state is a desired objective-[so
far from its corresponding] to anything we can describe as 'progress', or survival
of the fittest in any cultural sense, it appears to correspond to the exact reverse"
(Brief for the Prosecution, p. 70).
"Organisation," he concludes, "is, in fact, magic. It is
the evocation of an elemental force, and it is much easier to evoke elemental
forces than it is to control them or lay them" (Big Idea, p. 20).
But all this is apropos of what
exactly? What was Douglas upset about? Douglas was upset because he saw the world
of his childhood pass away. Well, everyone's childhood passes away: it's called
growing up. But Douglas was upset because his children and grandchildren were
born into a world completely alien to that in which Douglas was born. There was
a break in transmission between his generation and theirs, a personal tragedy
for countless mothers and fathers and a threat to civilization itself.
"There is," writes Douglas, "a memory-history of still greater
importance [than personal experience], and that is hereditary. Many of the country
villages of England and Scotland were full of it. The first essential to its growth
is stability. . . . Family-traditional-history . . . may take the form of 'feeling
for the land', water-divining, boat-building, or anything else which has been
carried on in the same place by the same families over a considerable period.
For the purpose of a 'feeling for policy', which is really a subconscious memory
of trial and error, the same consideration is equally true, if we are to accept
the theory of a continuous policy [as we do boat-building]. I do not believe there
is any substitute for it, although it requires checks and balances" (Big
Idea, p. 28f.).
Seeing this world
betrayed, instead of shaking his head and saying, like Gabriel Churchkitten, "How
very sad! How very, very sad," Douglas demanded answers.
Douglas was nineteen when Queen Victoria dies. He lived through the Great
War, the Great Depression, the enslavement of first Russia and then Germany by
totalitarian regimes, and an even Greater War. The closing years of his life saw
the end of British India, the birth of the State of Israel, and the Korean War.
A keen observer of these and other events, Douglas insistently brought every question
back home to its effect on life in Britain.
In 1948 Douglas seconded Commander Geoffrey Bowles's statement "some
little time back, that no one born less than fifty years ago was able to give
a personal opinion on freedom from experience of it." That suggests the first
decade of the twentieth century as a time when a line was crossed. It is now fifty
years later, so if the statement was true then, it effectively means that today
no one can give a personal opinion on freedom from experience of it. Of similar
tendency is Douglas's statement that his money reform scheme, still practicable
when first proposed in 1918, was no longer so in 1945, so greatly had the patient
deteriorated in the meantime (Development of World Dominion 29, 41).
Ultimately, Douglas would trace this
deterioration back to Cromwell and to the Reformation, so his was not the first
generation to experience a break in transmission. William Cobbett had chronicled
the transformation of the countryside and its inhabitants for the worse in Rural
Rides (1827). Nevertheless, the process had so accelerated that compared to
the postwar world, nineteenth-century Britain was in relative continuity with
the past and had its redeeming virtues.
Writing in 1943, Douglas cites as an example the devastation of a once-beautiful
town: "Two hundred years ago it was a lovely little county borough beside
a sparkling salmon river, surrounded by wooded hills with hundreds of modest manor
houses within an hour's canter, and half a dozen famous mansions within a radius
of fifteen miles, each of them a little community in itself." Now it must
"be well in the running for preeminence as a faithful similitude of Dante's
Inferno. . . . There are hundreds of such districts in various parts of Great
Britain. The general deterioration has been more rapid in the last fifty years
than in the previous century, and a wide extension of this deterioration is threatened"
("Land for the [Chosen] People" Racket, p. 36).
In the same work, he notes that overtaxed farms are being displaced by
mining operations: "Miners, very good fellows as they are, are not regarded
with enthusiasm by farmers. They are inveterate trespassers and poachers; destroy
fences, leave open gates, and produce an easily recognisable 'ragged' air to the
countryside which is accentuated by the 'planned' neatness of many modern colliery
villages. The sulphur smoke from the pit chimney hurts the crops. And of course,
by the almost inevitable destruction of the amenities of the district, its general
residential value becomes restricted to those connected with the working of minerals"
(p. 11). "Amongst many debts, mostly unacknowledged, which the countryside
owes to the large landowner," Douglas observes, "is its preservation,
until he was dispossessed, from vandalism" (p. 36).
Another instructive example is a Highlands hydroelectric project that was
under consideration in 1945. Hydroelectric power was Douglas's professional field.
He writes as follows:
Highland water-power is almost ideal for the utilisation of small, high-fall installations
taking water from small streams at a high altitude, and returning it to its original
bed several hundred feet lower down, without interfering in any way with the watershed
or the local amenities. Such plants, rarely exceeding two or three hundred horsepower,
under local control and possible in nearly every village, offer advantages to
the local population obtainable in no other way. . . . The Commission proposals
are radically different. Whole catchment areas are to be monopolised, glens are
to be flooded, villages submerged, immense dams and pipelines built, with secondary
effects on climate and vegetation which are unknown but certainly considerable.
. . . The electrical energy generated is transmitted at so high a voltage that
its utilisation locally or en route is impracticable, and is in fact disclaimed.
(Brief for the Prosecution, p. 76)
The Report on which the proposals
are based remarks 'No vested interests will be permitted to interfere' with them.
That is to say, the proposals represent an over-riding policy which will be empowered
by the sanctions of law to sweep existing vested interests out of its path. At
the same time it is admitted that the objective is more power for factory industry,
and notably the electro-chemical industry. Who committed the nation to that policy?
When was it submitted to the judgment of the House of Commons? When, and by whom,
was it decided that one vested interest is more important than several?
It is symptomatic of the paralysis which has overtaken British thinking
in the past fifty years that this phrase 'vested interest' which merely means
stability of tenure, can appear in the Report of a Royal Commission, without amplification,
as though it described a public evil. There is probably not an individual in the
country whose waking hours are not largely devoted to acquiring a vested interest
in something or other, even if it be only a tooth-brush. In fact, it is precisely
those predatory aggressors on vested interests concerned with the monopolisation
of Scottish water-power, and the industry for the use of which it is intended,
which transform concentrated vested interests into a public danger. The widespread
distribution of vested interests would be the greatest guarantee of social stability
This sweeping away of
minor vested interests by a major vested interest is policy in action. But the
policy is not defined and is carefully kept from Parliamentary discussion unless
a nebulous connection with 'full employment' can be regarded as a definition.
. . . The minor vested interests which are adversely affected are numerous. Perhaps
the first in importance, although apparently the last to be considered, is the
antipathy of the resident population" (Brief for the Prosecution,
In a 1946 passage, Douglas
represents the direction the socialist government was then taking Britain symbolically
as "Wigan," the hellish coal-town: "If a man, presently at Crewe,
says he wishes to go to London [= Prosperity], and then insists on entering a
carriage labeled Wigan, you will probably be tempted to call him, 'incompetent',
'inefficient' or some of the other words frequently heard in connection with the
Socialist incumbents of our present governing system. . . . But you may be quite
wrong. The man may really have intended to go to Wigan, and have told you he was
going in the other direction, to avoid argument as to the relative attractions
of Wigan and London. . . . Taking their key words, 'Full Employment', 'Austerity'
and 'Unlimited Exports', as signposts, it is not really difficult to see why the
train is going to Wigan when you suppose that everyone wants it to go to London.
. . . And Wigan? Wigan is merely Big Business as Government" (Development
of World Dominion 148). Of course, today "Wigan" has had a makeover.
In fact, it looks a lot like The Village in Patrick McGoohan's marvelous sixties
TV series, where every morning a wonderfully fresh and cheery female voice would
announce over the public address system: "Good morning! It's another BEAUTIFUL
day!" Call it New Wigan.
we don't like where we are going, why are we going there? Britain had been moving
steadily toward more centralized power for fifty years. Both the consistency of
the facts over time in Britain and parallel facts in otherwise unlike countries
(Germany, Russia, the United States) led Douglas to infer the existence of a Promoter.
That is, if for centuries we never went to Wigan and never had the least interest
in going to Wigan, then all of a sudden not only are we going there but we have
no choice in the matter, it is reasonable to infer that someone wants to go to
War is a puzzle just like
Wigan: "I suppose that about two thousand millions of individuals are affected
by the present war. I should place the number of individuals who would be quite
unable to say with approximate accuracy what it is about at roughly nineteen hundred
and ninety nine millions, so that we are left with this simple alternative. Either
the total population of the world likes war without knowing what it is about;
in which case it is obviously absurd to do anything to abolish it, or, on the
other hand, we can find the causes of war if we examine the actions of a minority
hidden amongst less than a million individuals" (Programme for the Third
World War, p. 32).
War and Wigan are connected to one another. There is a quote that Douglas repeats
over and over throughout these late writings, because he believes it to be a rare,
unguarded self-revelation by the Promoter. It is taken from Planning, the journal
of a research foundation, Political and Economic Planning, founded and directed
by Israel Moses Sief. The quote comes from the year 1938 and reads as follows:
"Only in war, or under threat of war, will the British nation embark on large-scale
how can Douglas object to large-scale planning as such? Aren't the resident population's
objections to the water-power project met by the answer that they are failing
to see the problem as a whole? Aren't the reluctant Highlanders being narrow-minded
and short-sighted? Mustn't they be nudged along and even coerced if the common
good requires it? Won't this ultimately be best for everybody, including them?
Isn't that democracy? No, says Douglas! Democracy is the power of the resident
population-a minority but the minority most concerned-to say, effectively, no:
"The only legitimate power (and properly exercised, it is immense) of a democracy,
as such, is negative-it is almost comprised in the power to contract-out"
(Development of World Dominion 60). The right to contract out is the right
to dissociate oneself from positive projects and programs without penalty. It
doesn't apply to ordinary, negative, criminal law.
Here in Columbus we recently had a ballot issue called Bethel Road Extension.
A road to ease the city's traffic flow would have entailed the sacrifice of thirty-six
homes. Fortunately, it failed. Had it passed, the thirty-six households would
have had no veto, although they were the minority most concerned. Those who voted
for it were fools, for don't they want to hold their own property securely? In
a democracy, the owners could not be constrained, and even one holdout would veto
the whole project. Note that these two models of democracy-(1) the coercion of
the minority by the majority for the common good and (2) the right of the individual
to contract out of functional legislation-are complete opposites.
You may have heard the expression Nimby, meaning someone who acknowledges
the need for big works but "Not In My Back Yard." The expression is
pejorative, as if to say that the sentiment "Not In My Back Yard," though
natural and even universal (there are no "Imbies"), is nevertheless
selfish. It is as if to say that we all must be prepared to make such sacrifices
when our turn comes. All those fool enough to vote for prodigious works should
share the honor of making the sacrifice.
In respect of large-scale planning, Douglas calls attention to "the
fact that practically every article we use, from a teaspoon to a motor-car, is
the result of skilled, intensive planning, . . . yet we do not plan teaspoons
and motor-cars 'as a whole'." The planning that results in a teaspoon or
a motor-car in competition with other teaspoons and motor-cars for the individual's
attention is one thing. Planning with a capital-P is the planning of whole peoples
to subordinate their activities (including teaspoons and motor-cars) to one overriding
function. And the most overriding function possible is war (Brief for the Prosecution,
Again: "When the rational
processes legitimately begin, creative processes, in the real sense, cease. 'Large
Scale Planning' assumes that we have come to the end of the story. Much the same
principle is exemplified in the profound remark that 'Le mieux est l'ennemi du
bien' [The best is enemy of the good]. Now if the Plan merely comprehends collar-studs,
it will probably retard the arrival of the best collar-stud, but will not, per
se, prevent the use of buttons. But if it is really 'large scale Planning' (viewing
the problem as a whole' . . .) and you don't approve of the nationalised, or Monopoly,
collar-stud, that will be just too bad" (Development of World Dominion
We are back to the theme (we
never really left it) of government by function. The function-the doing-usurps
the place of the individual soul for whose sake, ostensibly, everything is done.
The party leading the way to New Wigan when these pieces were written was even
named after a function, labor. If you can have a Labour party, why not a Chores
party or a Suffering party? Isn't it a little odd to attempt to organize a whole
nation around the fact that sometimes human beings have to labor? Douglas makes
the point amusingly by comparing labor and sleep: "Labour is no more, and
no less, than a function, and has no more, and no less, claim to consideration
than any other function, such as sleep. But of course Socialism merely uses 'Labour'
to obtain a Parliamentary franchise for an overriding monopoly-if it were feasible
to capitalise sleep for this purpose, it would serve even better" (Development
of World Dominion 122).
stating that "no one born less than fifty years ago was able to give a personal
opinion on freedom from experience of it," C. H. Douglas indicated the first
decade of this century as a turning point when the British people found themselves,
independently of any will of their own, going to "Wigan," that is, large-scale
planning, or big business as government, or "functionalism." The advent
of Wigan might be known by three things: the increase in licensing, the use of
statistics as a measure of well-being, and increased standardization (Big Idea,
pp. 9, 18; "Whose Service Is Perfect Freedom," p. 40). Who personified
it better than Henry Ford, with his mass production methods and his model towns?
Henry Ford tried to make Ford cars and the equivalent of the Rolls-Royce under
one control. The Ford didn't approximate the Rolls-Royce; but Mr. Ford's attempt
at the Rolls-Royce closely approximated to the Ford.
large industrial settlements as those of the Ford interests in the United States
. . . arrogate to themselves a right of supervision over the private lives of
their employees far exceeding that which would have been exercised by a British
landowner at any time, or tolerated by their tenants, and this is accompanied
by a close knit organisation for card-indexing every applicant for employment
("Land for the [Chosen] People" Racquet, p. 14; Development
of World Dominion 86).
"There is only
one place in which there is an effective 'standard' of living," writes Douglas,
"and that is a gaol" ("Whose Service Is Perfect Freedom,"
p. 40). It is said that these are tradeoffs for efficiency, but Ford's methods
cannot be called more efficient than Fred Royce's, since he produced an inferior
car. And C. H. Douglas had already shown how to make the Rolls-Royce affordable
without any change in production methods. If everyone could drive a Rolls, the
mass production of the mediocre would offer no advantage.
The Ford was more efficient only in the short term, that is, until it broke
down. (Found On Road Dead was the cruel acronym.) We settled for efficiency in
the short term because we "couldn't afford" to invest in the long term.
"In the long term we're all dead," as Keynes so shamelessly and so wrongly
put it. This is a very deep cultural statement and goes to the heart of what Douglas
was about. Efficiency means the best result for the least effort. But our culture
no longer values permanence, duration, and stability. Therefore their achievement
doesn't count toward efficiency and even constitutes "waste." In the
1951 Alec Guiness movie The Man in the White Suit, a humble janitor in
a textile mill invents a fabric that lasts forever and repels dirt. The union
and the bosses unite to kill it. There obviously must be a way to get the benefit
of such an invention, and in fact Douglas solved the riddle in 1918. Yet our economists
today still wouldn't have a clue what to do with the wonderful fabric, and the
ideal of the 1940s appeared to be to run Britain like the Ford Motor Company.
The British also found themselves, in
the course of this century, involved (again apart from any wish of their own)
in wars of unprecedented destructiveness. And a relation between Wigan and War
was revealed, in our last issue, in a quote from the journal of the internationally
recognized organization Political and Economic Planning: "Only in war, or
under threat of war, will the British nation embark on large-scale planning."
From these facts, Douglas inferred the existence of a Promoter, that is, someone
who wanted to go to Wigan and wanted war as a means to go to Wigan.
Of the hypothetical Promoter, Douglas infers three things: (1) he will
prefer to be anonymous, (2) he will be in a position to "make the rules,"
and (3) he will hinder the private-and-local, because the private-and-local is
a perennial thorn in the side of the galactic empire ("Whose Service Is
Perfect Freedom," pp. 70-71). To help identify the Promoter within Britain,
Douglas calls to witness no less a person than Gordon Hewart Lord Bury, the Lord
Chief Justice of England. Hewart's book, The New Despotism, was published
in 1929 (311 pages).
his book by defining the British tradition of rule of law. Rule of law means that
(1) "no man can be punished, or can be lawfully made to suffer either in
his body or in his goods, except for a distinct breach of law established in the
ordinary legal manner before the ordinary Courts"; (2) "every man, whatever
his rank or condition may be, is subject to the ordinary law of the land and the
jurisdiction of the ordinary Courts"; and (3) "the general principles
of our Constitution are mainly the result of judicial decisions determining the
rights of private persons in particular cases brought before the Courts"
Note that item 1 is a negative
definition of rights. It says that what is forbidden is specified in the law,
all else being permitted. The rights of man are in number as the stars. A positive
declaration of rights has the disadvantage that is compromises all rights not
mentioned in the declaration. The ordinary Courts deliver justice based on four
principles: (1) the judge is known and personally responsible for his decisions,
(2) the case is conducted in public, (3) the result is based on known and established
principles uniformly applied (due process), and (4) all parties are fully and
fairly heard (pp. 31-32).
The author then states his thesis:
"There is in England a considerable number of statutes, most of them passed
during the last twenty years, which have vested in public officials, to the exclusion
of the jurisdiction of Courts of Law, the power of deciding questions of a judicial
nature. Usually the power is given nominally to the Minister or other head of
a Government Department. . . . The official who [actually] comes to the decision
is anonymous, and, so far as interested parties and the public are concerned,
is unascertainable. He is not bound by any particular course of procedure, unless
a course of procedure is prescribed by the Department, nor is he bound by any
rules of evidence, and indeed he is not obliged to receive any evidence at all
before coming to a conclusion. If he does admit evidence, he may wholly disregard
it without diminishing the validity of his decision.
"There is not, except in comparatively few cases, any oral hearing,
so that there is no opportunity to test by cross examination such evidence as
may be received, nor for the parties to controvert or comment on the case put
forward by their opponents. It is, apparently, quite unusual for interested parties
even to be permitted to have an interview with anyone in the Department. When
there is any oral hearing, the public and the press are invariably excluded. Finally,
it is not usual for the official to give any reasons for his decision" (pp.
43-44; "twenty years" again points to the first decade of the century
as a point of departure). "There can be little doubt," writes the Lord
Chief Justice of England, "that it is the officials in the Departments concerned
who initiate the legislation by which the arbitrary powers are conferred upon
them" (p. 51).
his thesis by citing numerous examples of astonishing language inserted in recent
acts of Parliament (pp. 62-76). The Board of Agriculture and Fisheries' order
confirming compulsory acquisition of land or fisheries by a local authority "shall
become final and have effect as if enacted in this Act; and the confirmation by
the Board shall be conclusive evidence that the requirements of this Act have
been complied with, and that the order has been duly made and is within the powers
of this Act"! So shall the Local Government Board or Minister of Health's
order confirming compulsory acquisition of land by a local authority to build
working-class housing, the Board of Education's order confirming compulsory acquisition
of land by a local authority to build schools, and the Minister of Health's order
for compulsory acquisition of property for town improvement and reconstruction
schemes (1908/1923, 1909/1925, 1918, 1925; these are the dates of the acts; whenever
it is said in these acts that "the Minister" may do something, it must
be remembered that this power is actually exercised by subordinates).
The Board of Trade and Electricity Commissioners' rules made for applications
by electricity suppliers "shall be laid before Parliament as soon as may
be after they are made, and shall have the same effect as if enacted in this Act,"
as shall the rules made by the relevant board in relation to applications by gas
suppliers (1919, 1920; Hewart's emphasis). The Minister of Labour's order in regard
to unemployment insurance "may modify the provisions of this Act," and
his regulations "shall have effect as if enacted in this Act"--as shall
the Minister of Health's in regard to poor relief (1920, 1927).
The Minister of Transport's order overruling the denial of a license to
a bus company "shall be final and not subject to appeal to any Court, and
shall, on the application of the Minister, be enforceable by writ of mandamus
[by the Court]" (1920). The same Minister may confirm the closing of streets
for road work, and "it shall become final and binding on all road authorities
affected, and shall not be subject to appeal to any Court." His regulations
to ease the traffic flow in London "may provide for the suspension or modification
of any Acts of Parliament," and his making of regulations under this section
"shall be conclusive evidence that the requirements of this section have
been complied with" (1924).
prize example, however, is a rating and valuation bill initiated by the administration
in 1928. The bill specified that should a question of law arise in regard to heritable
property, the Minister of Health might "submit the question to the High Court
for its opinion there-on, and the High Court after hearing such parties as it
thinks proper shall give its opinion on the question. The Central Valuation Committee
may appear as parties on the hearing of any such case for the purpose of supporting
any contention with respect to the question at issue." If the reader, at
first glance, fails to see the problem, let him remember our opening quote as
he reads the shocked and indignant reaction by the members of the House of Lords
Lord Hanworth said:
"The effect of this clause is to enable a Minister to submit a question to
the High Court and to obtain an opinion. When that opinion is obtained the Minister
will be armed with an authoritative declaration which, it might be said, he could
apply to all cases, . . . thus preventing those who desire to have their matters
decided on their own proper facts from bringing those matters to the attention
of the Court in the ordinary way."
Lord Merrivale said: "It will anticipate a conflict of authority with
the individual by securing, upon arguments which it controls, a decision of a
Judge which is intended to be authoritative and secure in advance. . . . There
is not really any difficulty in securing the opinion of the Courts at a minimum
of expense upon a case stated with regard to any question which arises in practice.
. . . But a system which puts a public Department in a position to take charge
of the question, . . . to obtain a decision and then to promulgate or retain it
to regulate its relations with His Majesty's subjects, is unheard of. . . .
"When a case of this kind comes
for opinion in advance and is presented to a Judge who understands his business,
[will he] not say: 'I have not any facts before me as to this abstract question.
It will depend on facts and the conclusion may be this way or that way, but when
I see the facts to which it is desired that the opinion shall be applied I shall
be able to express an opinion with regard to those facts'?" (This corresponds
to the third principle of the rule of law. Compare the particularism of Baconian
induction and, before that, the Christian love of the particular that was part
and parcel of living by the Incarnation [Triumph of the Past, November
1998]. Was Bacon's revolution in the physical sciences an adaptation of the procedure
for ascertaining truth known as British Common Law?)
Lord Carson said: "I am not at all surprised to be told that a vast
number of questions have arisen for legal decision under the [Rating and Valuation]
Act of 1925, because it was pointed out, when that Act was before this House,
that it was full of many difficulties and some absurdities, and we were only given
a day or two in which to pass it. Otherwise, we were told, the Constitution would
tumble over and the House of Lords would for ever cease to exist. We accepted
the situation, as we always do at the end of a Sessions with a Conservative Government
in power. Therefore I am not at all surprised to be told that there are these
objections, and that they must be got rid of in some kind of way. . . . But if
there is one matter above all others that this House ought to take care that a
Government should not be allowed to do, it is that they should not be allowed
to take from litigants the right of decision by the Courts and the right to argue
their cases before them. That is what this clause does."
"It is certainly an expeditious way of disposing of controversial
questions," comments Hewart of the administration's attempt, "but it
is hardly likely to bring into existence a body of case-law that would stand examination"
(p. 162). In the event, the clause was omitted. The "progressive" Marquess
of Salisbury, speaking for the administration, voiced his disappointment in the
following words: "Here is a provision put into the Bill with the object of
saving expense to unfortunate ratepayers, and the only thing which the great lawyers
can think of is whether some special theory of law and of administration is complied
with." The "special theory of law and of administration" referred
to is the independence of the judiciary. It would be shocking to trade this for
material gain even if the latter were real, but in fact, giving the taxing authority
a legal edge over taxpayers does not save the latter money.
Note the functional character
of all this legislation: food production, building houses and schools, utilities,
roads and transportation services, town planning, unemployed and poor relief,
taxation. These are not laws to restrain individuals from crimes. It is not suggested
that property ownership is socially undesirable and should be deterred by compulsory
acquisition (though that is the effect). It is not suggested that consumption
is socially undesirable and should be restrained by taxation (though that is the
We saw that the rule of
law says that everything is permitted except what is forbidden. This is not merely
a tautology. It means that what the state forbids it must forbid expressly. But
the laws mentioned do not forbid anything expressly. They are of the "Wouldn't
it be a good thing if--?" variety. A particular function is conceived to
override individual rights in a cost-benefit analysis. When the function becomes
law, individual rights are eroded incidentally as it were. Nor are they eroded
uniformly: not everyone's property will be acquired by compulsion. This is in
a way worse than forthright tyranny.
nation is properly a voluntary and contractual "association to pursue individual
ends by common rules." The rules are laws forbidding certain behaviors. Functionalism,
on the other hand, is a unilateral abrogation of the contract, forcing individuals
to pursue common ends (Brief for the Prosecution, pp. 67-68). Douglas does
not assert that the state should never embark on a function, but he does assert
that it should do so only within the limits of the contract. He asserts that individual
rights (negatively and therefore liberally defined by the contract) take precedence
over a function and may not be sacrificed to it.
The Bethel Road Extension mentioned in our last issue was a function. Its
proponents thought the benefit of eased traffic flow to all was worth the sacrifice
of thirty-six homes. (It was understandable that the thirty-six did not see it
that way, but they could hardly be objective.) "Okay," you object, "even
if it was not worth the sacrifice of thirty-six, surely it would be worth the
sacrifice of one?" No, says Douglas: Who says a road has to be straight?
"But what if going around the property would defeat the purpose of the road,
so that the benefit no longer exceeded the cost?" Then (Douglas would say)
the original cost-benefit analysis was in error, and the project should be abandoned.
You may no more seize people's homes to make the equation come out right than
you may kill them. "But such-and-such a function could never have been achieved
by your method!" That is functionalism talking. Although we existed without
the function for ages, now it is an imperative and drives everything else out
of the way.
Does that mean we just
have to live with social ills? Why not take the corrected cost-benefit analysis
as a salutary dose of reality, forcing us to a superior solution? For instance,
much functional legislation is concerned with the alleviation of poverty and the
concomitants of poverty. The leftist slogan Poverty Is Violence is true, except
that the leftists don't know what it means. If poverty is violence, a crime has
been committed. If a crime has been committed, it should be possible to identify
the perpetrators and try them on specific charges and so deter the crime. But
in that case, of course, there would be no need for all these programs, for since
when do we address violent crime by a program for the victims supported by a tax
on the crime?
The functional approach
doesn't go beyond a vague sense that poverty is violence and we are all guilty.
The functionalist is too lazy to be troubled to figure out exactly how poverty
is violence, and he doesn't think he needs to know, because what is demanded is
action: redistribute wealth. The result is both unjust and ineffective. It is
unjust because taking from these people to give to these people without showing
that the former acquired it somehow unjustly is stealing, which is itself an injustice.
(It doesn't make sense you say you can find no fault with the way wealth is acquired
but that since the results are inequitable, you are going to seize some of it
and use it to redress the balance.) It is ineffective because it only treats symptoms,
so of course the problem never goes away. The failure to locate the source of
the injustice suggests that the problem has not been properly analyzed and that
is why no solution has been found.
was this type of business for which departmental officials were seeking extraordinary
powers. "The Minister," Hewart imagines the anonymous official saying,
"is but a transient, embarrassed phantom, here to-day and gone to-morrow.
But I am always here. Mine is the knowledge, mine the experience, and the task
of the Minister is simply to ratify my decision" (p. 113). "While the
Act proceeds from the bureaucrat, or his shadowy inspiration," Douglas comments,
"the responsibility, and the odium, rest still upon the Member of Parliament
who is constitutionally, but not actually, able to check him. The stealthy separation
of power from responsibility, which is so marked a feature of secret societies,
is now incorporated into Government activities" (Brief for the Prosecution,
"The excuses which are
offered even by the most able of the apologists of the new despotism," comments
Hewart, "are sometimes rather entertaining. It is said that Parliament simply
has not time to do otherwise than delegate legislative power; that Parliament,
even if it had the time, has not the requisite aptitude for the work; and that,
after all, it is not the task of Parliament, but the task of the Executive, to
govern the country. . . . Neither of [the first] two circumstances . . . can be
said to offer the smallest reason why the work which is done should be done behind
the back of Parliament, nor without its knowledge and real assent [the key clauses
being insinuated in masses of unintelligible verbiage]. Nor do these or any other
circumstances afford a reason why the order which is made, or the decision which
is given, should be so contrived as to be beyond review in the Court of Law.
"As for the third of the propositions,
. . . the real business of the Executive is to govern the country in accordance
with the laws which Parliament has made. Is it not precisely because it is the
task of the Executive to govern the country that it is so dangerous to hand over
to the Executive the power of making laws as well, and of making them in ways
which, while a kind of formal homage is paid to the sovereignty of Parliament,
have the effect of employing the sovereignty of Parliament to oust the jurisdiction
of the Courts? Those who defend the system of departmental decision, without reasons
given, without the possibility of appeal, and behind the back of the other party,
are heard from time to time to say that it is cheap. Yet it may be much too dear
at the price" (pp. 76-77).
is a place for overriding function in bona fide emergencies, as Douglas acknowledges,
quoting the maxim Inter arma silent leges (In war the laws fall silent): "Taxation
was originally a war measure. . . . It was simply a recognition of the fact that
when the house is burning down, the mill race may have to be tapped to put the
fire out" (Brief for the Prosecution, p. 54). Today, it is as if the
house is always burning down, for overriding function has become the way we govern.
And if the house is always burning down, why is it? "Only in war, or under
threat of war, will the British nation embark on large-scale planning."
Another aspect of the same
matter is revealed in Douglas's discussion of ownership and control. They are
not necessarily the same thing. For instance, a thing can be taxed so as to make
ownership a mere burden. This happened with British farms. By differential taxation,
farming was made unprofitable, mining profitable, so land that had been in families
for centuries had to be leased out to collieries or forfeited to the state. The
farmer still "owned" it, that is, he got to pay the tax ("Land
for the [Chosen] People" Racquet, pp. 8, 11).
Henry George based his reforms on the idea that the state could turn all
land ownership effectively into rental from the state by the simple expedient
of taxing it. And so it can. But whether by taxation or outright nationalization,
what is control by "the state"? Except as a purely legal fiction,"
observes Douglas, "the common ownership of the soil by 45,000,000 individuals
is not a subject for debate-it is a factual impossibility. In the sense in which
it is understood by the ordinary man, ownership means control. Forty-five million
people never yet controlled anything" (p. 6).
Or consider the Post Office: "You, reader, are a common owner of the
Post Office, which is nationalized. Go into the nearest branch, and remark that
you will take your share in office pens, collect all the pens in sight, and move
for the door. You will receive a lesson in common ownership. You may now observe
that as you are a common owner, either you ought to be served by the Post Office
free of charge, or, alternately, obtain your share of the usufruct in the form
of a handsome dividend" (Brief for the Prosecution, p. 71).
You, along with thousands of others, own a few shares of stock in a corporation.
But company policy cannot be split up, like "ownership," into thousands
of pieces. What you have is not 100% control over a fraction of the company (even
so much as a staple puller) but a fraction of control over 100% of the company,
an ambivalent phrase that may translate into no control at all. What you have,
in fact, is the right to participate in an activity called "voting your shares."
If you vote with the minority, the result of your vote is nil. If you vote with
the majority, the result of your vote was also nil. By the nature of the case,
actual control is necessarily vested in a few (cf. Programme for the Third
World War, p. 7f.)
This is the
obvious fallacy of mass voting: "A parliamentary vote gives no effective
control, and the more widespread the vote, the less the control." Just as
small stockholders are at the mercy of professional management, so the voting
populace is at the mercy of a trained bureaucracy (Programme for the Third
World War, p. 37; Brief for the Prosecution, p. 71). There is a huge
interest in rescuing the theory from this fatal observation, and no rhetoric is
more impervious to logic that that employed to "get out the vote" or
to persuade you not to "waste your vote." We have to believe in something,
so we believe in "democracy," rather than despotism. And thus we fail
to see that the expansion of function at the expense of individual control is
despotism. In a democracy, the more decisions that are not put to a mass vote
or made by the mass government, the better. Douglas quotes the maxim, De minimis
non curat lex (The law is not concerned with trivial matters): "And it is
small matters which make up the essential life. . . . How fantastic it is to have
an organization which is forever grinding out new laws" (Programme for
the Third World War, p. 12).
have a name for this principle-tenancy-in-common. "To the simple man,"
writes Douglas, "'common ownership' means ownership divided amongst common
men, of whom he counts himself. But any lawyer would tell him that common ownership
means transfer of control to an administrator, who in theory, distributes the
usufruct (not the thing 'commonly owned', which must on no account be touched
by any one of the common owners)." Tenancy-in-common is, of all forms of
holding property, "the one which most thoroughly deprives the proprietor
of any control both over his alleged property and [over] its administration, while
leaving him its liabilities. On the other hand, lawyers love it; the various tenants
never agree on any active measure in connection with it; its administration is
ultimately left in the lawyer's hand" (Brief for the Prosecution,
p. 7; "Whose Service Is Perfect Freedom," p. 24f.).
A similar situation arises when, "as in perhaps the majority of cases
in Scotland," a single owner of an estate is hopelessly in debt, and the
estate goes into receivership. The result is that scourge of society, absenteeism.
The estate becomes subject to management by a remote agent, who is professionally
indifferent to "the interests of the land, the proprietor, [and] the tenants,
except in so far as they maintain the security behind the debts" ("Land
for the [Chosen] People Racquet, p. 16).
In short: "The transfer of powers and privileges from an individual
to an organization simply means transfer of those powers and privileges to the
persons controlling it. . . . If you imagine that there is anywhere in the world
either a democracy or any other system, which confers on Mr. John Citizen an effective
control or a beneficial share in those powers which he has been persuaded or jockeyed
into transferring from a tangible [himself] to an intangible executive, then you
are labouring under what may quite possibly prove to be a fatal delusion. . .
. To put the matter quite shortly, transfer of power almost certainly means transfer
of policy" (Brief for the Prosecution, p. 6).
We have seen that Douglas saw the first decade of the century, just before
World War I, as a critical moment when Function might have been defeated but was
not. Having survived the crisis, it became stronger and bolder. The war is the
proof. Douglas saw the events of the Armistice years as a prelude to a resumption
of shooting, with the implication that World Wars I and II were in reality a single
conflict in three phases. If, then, "the war is the mechanism by which revolutionary
changes are being imposed on society," Douglas asks, do we know "what
was the determinant of our pre-war civilization, or, in consequence, what it is
which distinguishes that with which we are threatened from that with which we
are familiar"? Since the core of the war-era system is tenancy-in-common
or other transfer of control, it should not surprise that the core of the prewar
system was private income (independent means)-"the possession of adequate
purchasing-power not subject to governmental interference, nor terminable by loss
of employment" (Brief for the Prosecution, p. 83f., our italics).
The locus of the private income was a
class, the British squirearchy, or country aristocracy. Douglas thus saw the continued
existence of this class as a vital check on the power of the state and as the
bulwark of British freedom. "The form of aristocratic tradition which had
developed in the British Isles and built up the British Empire," writes Douglas,
"was an insuperable barrier to the Slave . . . World." These families
"set a non-commercial standard of behaviour even in commerce; . . . it is
only in this century that this standard, the remnant of Christian Europe, has
been effectively submerged. [It] was effective during the great days of the Indian
Civil Service, [whose] chief vice was that it had a standard of honour."
"Even a decadent and adulterated aristocratic culture" was a check on
sheer rapacity (Development of World Dominion 17, 131).
In this context, Douglas notes the importance of the crime of trespass.
There is an increasingly prevalent idea that trespass in the country is not serious.
In fact, "even minor trespass irritates a farmer, partly because he may have
to look whether gates have been left open or stock disturbed." The average
person would not feel free to, say, walk into a private business office and "shuffle
the blue-prints around," yet they are the same crime. Functionalism is simply
"legalized trespass carried to its logical conclusion," and "it
is far from accidental that 'trespass' is the generic crime along mentioned in
the principal Prayer of Christianity" ("Land for the [Chosen] People"
Racquet, p. 35; Development of World Dominion 33).
Thus, the destruction of the British aristocracy (by such weapons as taxation,
debt, and tenancy-in-common) became a priority of Function, and the road to Wigan
inevitably became a war against British culture. "Slowly at first, but now
very swiftly," Douglas observes, "the 'county' families, who were interwoven
with the system [of large estates], and in the main lived and dies in its not
unexacting service, have disappeared."
While Function set its sights on destroying privilege, Douglas's idea was
to extend privilege in the form of a private income for all: "There is plenty
of privilege for everyone." The private income ("the widespread distribution
of vested interests") was the key to the greatest possible individual freedom,
and individual freedom was the key to social stability and "all good things"
("Land for the [Chosen] People" Racquet, p. 4; "Whose
Service Is Perfect Freedom," p. 47; Development of World Dominion
It is a truism that death is
the great leveler. So is war, for then all must do their part to serve the function.
So is economic distress, for all must tighten their belts and pull together. So
is the primitive life in nature, for the tribe must survive. The individual counts
for little in the shadow of the function.
In the last two issues, we
explored C. H. Douglas's Christian anthropology in which the coming of the Man-God
defined the precedence of the individual soul over the group. Rejecting the fashionable
Darwinism of his day, Douglas sees true human progress as the emerging of the
individual from the group. Whereas Darwin sees the progress of the human race
as the result of impersonal scientific laws, Douglas sees it as the result of
conscious individual effort. Whereas Darwin sees the history of man as one of
continual, automatic microevolution, Douglas sees it as one in which the tide
of battle between progress and entropy go this way and that--a checkered drama
of victories painfully won, punctuated by periods of relapse in which the atavistic
pull of the group is too strong and individuation barely holds its own.
The atavistic pull of the group can also be called functionalism. Individuals
band into groups for the sake of a function (e.g., protection from wild beasts
and diseases, the carrying out of heavy labor). But when the function becomes
obsolescent (e.g., wild beasts are killed, smallpox is eradicated, a pulley lifts
heavy objects), not only does the group not disband but the bonds are not even
loosened. Instead, the function is resurrected in some other form, in order to
maintain a grip on the group.
the individual quest is Christ's way, functionalism is Anti-Christ's: "The
knight of chivalry, the militant Christian ideal, watched his armour alone in
the chapel through the night, and then went out to do battle alone for love against
fear and oppression--a very complete allegory. The 'mass' is unsavable; . . .
the object of Anti-Christ is to keep mankind in ever larger mobs, thus defeating
the object of Christ, to permit the emergence of self-governing, self-conscious
individuals." In that sense, Douglas described functionalism as "black
magic," "the evocation of an elemental force," "the manipulation
of metaphysical forces for questionable materialistic purposes," and "a
religion, of which the energising factor is physical force and the fear of it"
(Big Idea, p. 20; Realistic Position of the Church of England, p.
11; Realistic Constitutionalism, pp. 6-7).
A function means something disagreeable, that is, work. It means work in
the sense of an activity devoid of imagination, that is, mere execution. Since
we don't live in Paradise, the achievement of our desires always involves the
carrying out of functions. The individual contracts into associations in order
to gain what Douglas called the increment of association in carrying out these
functions. The need to maintain law and order is one such function. The production
of various goods is another such function, and the individual contracts into a
production association by buying its products.
Likewise, the individual calls on tools (technology) to lighten his load
by carrying out functions. There is imagination in the individual's will, and
there is imagination in the invention of a tool. But there is no imagination in
the work the tool does. The association should be thought of as a kind of tool,
a servant to the individual in his quest. The individual is the principal, the
master. The ends that the individual can imagine and will are in number as the
stars. What ends shall be accomplished is limited only by the imagination of every
man, woman, and child, the ingenuity of inventors, and the laws of nature. But
if the function (mass production of something) is predetermined and the individual
is allowed to choose only those ends for which that function can be the means,
that is functionalism. The individual thus becomes a mere tool of the group.
We saw an example in the evidence proffered
by George Hewart, Lord Chief Justice of England, that between 1908 and 1929 government
agencies got themselves granted extraordinary powers to carry out various new
and comprehensive functions. The House of Commons, Douglas writes, "has become
a rubber stamp for administrative works orders, masquerading under the name of
Laws" (Realistic Constitutionalism, p. 8).
and Common Law
The opposite conception,
the individual quest, is not mere subjectivism but corresponds to what the Church
calls natural law (as opposed to man-made law). Natural law means that good and
evil belong to objective reality. The individual quest is good, the subordination
of the individual soul to function is evil, and good and evil have consequences:
"The rules of the Universe transcend human thinking, and cannot, in the ordinary
sense of the words, be altered, and therefore must be ascertained and obeyed"
(Realistic Constitutionalism, p. 3). In this we can detect the influence
of John Ruskin.
The application to
politics follows thereupon: "What we have to make up our minds upon is whether
human political action is subject to the same kind, or some kind, of compulsion
to be 'right' as we accept in doing a multiplication sum, and if so, whether the
Christian Church, the Mystical Body of Christ, is the living incarnation of that
'right'-ness." Thus, "a Cabinet can pass laws confiscating, under the
name of taxation, the work of [a] man's life time or the land his family has dignified
for centuries; but it cannot avoid the consequences. . . . Is there a moral 'law'
connecting political transgression with national punishment? Contemporary Governments
clearly think that there is not" (Realistic Position of the Church of
England, pp. 6, 8).
natural law of the individual soul and the function is what was embodied in the
man-made rule of law as defined by Lord Hewart of Bury in our last issue: (1)
an individual is innocent until proven guilty (as a corollary, the law's function
is to forbid, not to propose); (2) every individual is subject to the same law
and the same court; (3) the court interprets the law by means of decisions in
individual cases based on precedents established by decisions in previous individual
cases (this is the Common Law).
Common Law was written by the younger sons of the aristocracy whom Henry II (crowned
1154) recruited to serve as judges for a new kind of court, which went round the
country on "circuits" and as local justices of the peace. And Common
Law derives from the natural law: "The locus of sovereignty over Common Law,
is not in the electorate, because Common Law did not derive from the electorate
and indeed ante-dated any electorate in the modern sense. In the main, it derived
from the Mediaeval Church, perhaps not directly, but from the climate of opinion
which the Church disseminated" (Realistic Constitutionalism, p. 8).
In a very Christian way, that great thing, the law, has to be sought for in ordinary
cases, in humble affairs. To such law even the will of the king must bend.
And thus it was that Britain was constituted
of three partial sovereignties: the aristocracy, the Church, and the king. And
at the signing of the Magna Carta we see two of these sovereignties (the barons
as the locus of Common Law and the Church as the locus of natural law) defending
their jurisdictions against encroachment by the executive function in the person
of King John (Realistic Position of the Church of England, pp. 4-5).
The Anglican Church founded by Cranmer,
in contrast, was a mere arm of the state: "To say that a church which is
established by statute, can be disestablished by statute, and has its higher officials
. . . appointed by the secular government of the day, is the same thing as a Church
which assists in forcing a king to sign a document declaring it to be free and
inviolable from himself or any other secular authority, and appoints its own officials
from outside and without reference to his jurisdiction, is infantile. . . .
Before the Church of
England can become what it should be, an integral, primary, and effective part
of the Constitution, so that the phrase 'Christianity is part of the Law of England'
may have real meaning, it is faced with the problem of restoring its locus standi.
It must be insisted that Christianity is either something inherent in the very
warp and woof or the Universe, or it is just an interesting set of opinions. .
. . The Roman Catholic Church has always recognised this, and has never 
wavered in its claims. It may be (and here I write with diffidence and proper
humility) that the most direct path to an effective Church, is at least, close
rapprochement, and at the most re-union of all the Churches making claims to Catholicity"
(Realistic Position of the Church of England, pp. 6, 12).
"We must retrace our steps," says Douglas, "in the face
of many false guides, to the fork in the road somewhere about the time of the
so-called Reformation" (Realistic Constitutionalism, p. 11).
Douglas called for a revival
of the values of permanence, duration, and stability, as witness his opposition
to the methods of mass production as opposed to craftsmanship. Here, too, Ruskin's
influence is decisive. In his first work on economics, A Joy Forever (and Its
Price in the Market), Ruskin identified preservation as one of the three main
heads of economics (sec. 8; 1857). And on the effect of standardization, he had
this to say: "If I could show you the architects' yards in England just now,
all open at once, perhaps you might see a thousand clever men, all employed in
carving the same design. . . . Men condemned to monotonous exertion work--and
always, by the laws of human nature, must work--only at a tranquil pace, not producing
by any means a maximum result in a given time. But if you allow them to vary their
designs, and thus interest their heads and hearts in what they are doing, you
will find them become eager, first, to get their ideas expressed, and then to
finish the expression of them; and the moral energy thus brought to bear on the
matter quickens, and therefore cheapens, the production in a most important degree"
What we need to understand
is that the freedom Ruskin describes is a prerequisite for stability. This is
natural law and cannot be evaded. Functionalism is worse than a crime, it is,
in the long term, a blunder, because it attempts to force human nature. In a simile
that is obviously not intended to be pressed, Douglas observes that individuals
are most effectively ruled with a light touch, "as a salmon is held by giving
it line" (Development of World Dominion 29).
Bureaucratic culture is a schizophrenic mix of flexibility and inflexibility.
Telephone companies are a conspicuous example. They are extremely flexible in
ethics when it comes to the struggle to come out on top in a highly competitive
environment. The extreme competitiveness of the industry makes phone companies
aggressive and rapacious to a degree that is scarcely to be believed. This editor
works at an office whose phone lines a couple of years ago were "slammed"
(changed without our permission to a rival company). That's hard to top for sheer
cheek, but don't underestimate the inventiveness that cutthroat competition can
inspire. Subsequently, our phone company called to say that some unscrupulous
company had again slammed our lines. We gave permission to transfer them back.
Guess what? This was the unscrupulous company, our lines had not been slammed,
and the call was a ruse to get our "permission" on tape.
On the other hand, they are inflexible when it comes to adapting to the
caller's needs. Voice mail--in itself an impertinence--now lures the caller down
endlessly branching tunnels only to abandon him in the end to despair and suicide.
The option of pressing "0" to get a person was abused and has been taken
away. The worst we have met so far is AT&T's Customer Care Line. A voice says:
"Thank you for calling AT&T Customer Care. Speak to me as you would a
real person. If I don't make sense, say help." Then follow the menu selections.
Don't think, however, that you are the judge of whether the voice is making sense.
The social misfit who says help just to get around the menu selections is first
ignored and finally humbled with, "Please relax and answer my questions!"
Global capitalist war puts a high premium
on infinite adaptability and infinite mobility in the recruit--the opposite values
to permanence, duration, and stability. The job market is so competitive that
people will sell their home and buy another a thousand miles away for the sake
of a job--not just once in a lifetime but repeatedly. It is now a way of life.
Extended families have to be left by the wayside: in such an environment, their
chance of survival is nil.
people are required to submit to constant retraining to keep up with changing
industry or risk being warehoused. The cost of relearning (the real cost that
the money imperfectly measures) is huge. The cost of updating perfectly good equipment
(like the house buying, not once but repeatedly) is huge. We pay for it in the
short life automatically assigned to, say, computers. There's no point in making
them to last, because it goes without saying that one upgrades every five years
or so. Why? "Because the technology is there." But what if the old is
still serviceable, and you have no complaint with it, and you are already adept
at using it, and after all it already exists? To change to a new one, (a) somebody
has to make it, (b) you have to work to get the money to buy it when the use of
the one you already have is free, and (c) you have to change your routines to
adapt to it.
Isn't preservation a
third of economics? If one computer could be made to last the lifetimes of several
others and be affordable, when would the user choose to make a change? Answer:
"If it is just your hobby, you can use an old iron typewriter if you want
to, but if it is business, you need the new." Why? "Because it enables
mass production, mass processing of information, economies of scale. Only the
fastest and most sophisticated technology with the biggest memory can survive
the competition." Aha! Functionalism rears its ugly head!
Which do you prize more: a factory-made sweater with quality control or
a handmade sweater with irregularities? "Handmade." Suppose the more
personal and human-scale organization produces articles of superior quality, like
a Stickley table or a Roycroft chandelier? "Only the rich could afford them.
That's the problem the Arts and Crafts movement never solved." Douglas solved
it. "On the basis of power technology." Yes, but not economies of scale.
Technology as such is value-neutral. It can be oriented to mass production, or
it can be oriented to cottage industries.
Economies of scale make sense only when the consumer is convinced he has
to settle for second best. You might say that given the financial rules of the
game, economies of scale are unavoidable, and you would be right. But by the same
token, you could say that the financial rules of the game give incentives to mass
production by keeping crafted goods out of reach. "Why would anyone want
to give incentives to mass production if it weren't inherently desirable?"
Now that's a question worth asking, and the answer Douglas submits for your consideration
is, To take us to Wigan.
mass production is by its nature a kind of desperate measure. In the event of
an emergency, we might need a lot of goods in a hurry. Then we focus on the short
term, sacrifice quality and permanence, and mass-produce to specifications exactly
what we need. Indeed, it's important for us to have the capacity to do that, but
in leisure and peace it's not what anyone would choose. Functionalism, however,
weaves a chronic state of emergency (either real or fictitious). And so we come
to regard mass production as normal and its products as the best we can afford.
Douglas's whole economics
is based on the idea of reaping what he calls the benefit of the cultural heritage,
which we call the fruit of the estate as received. But how can we enjoy the fruit
of the estate as received if we keep razing the estate and rebuilding it from
scratch? Finance is an incentive system pretending to be laws of nature. It is
supposed to be hard to understand, so here's a simple test. If we preserve our
estate, keep it in good repair, and as time allows make strong, useful, and beautiful
additions, a true finance should show a gain. If, on the other hand, we are in
the habit of knocking down good timber because of some new theory of architecture
and throwing up new and frailer structures not in keeping with the old, we are
running the estate to ruin, and a true finance should show a loss.
Custom is efficient. It's one of those statements that is so obvious that
it takes you by surprise. Anyone who has spent time in a foreign culture knows
the phenomenon of culture shock. The habits of a lifetime no longer avail you,
and life skills (especially social relations) have to be painfully relearnt. It
can be a rewarding experience, but the point is that all other factors being equal,
the easiest way to do something is the way we've always done it. What innovation
comes up against isn't just irrational inertia. Innovation bears the burden of
proving to the individual that its advantages are great enough to outweigh the
innate advantages of custom.
the rule of law, the state serves the individual by laying down and enforcing
minimal rules. It does not go on a quest of its own, recruiting individuals thereto
and wielding them like inanimate objects. The slaves who do our disagreeable but
necessary tasks are called executive, administrator/minister (Lat. ministrare,
"to serve"), official (Lat. officium, "function"), civil servant,
functionary. They do the bidding of lawmakers, who are mere go-betweens for the
individuals residing in a locality. The individual is the principal, the master,
the sovereign. But if this chain-gang becomes committed to a predetermined function
(the mass production of rules), and lawmakers are only allowed to name ends that
may be accomplished by those means (as Lord Hewart describes), that is functionalism.
The individual has to leave off his individual quest and become a mere tool of
The fate of such an individual
is to be pitied: "His place in the scheme of things is to be forced into
functional associations--Armies, 'Labour', Civil Services, etc. which can be swung
like a club, and, on the whole, with as little comprehension as a club possesses
as to the real objective for which it is swung." Again: "A mass population
entirely uninstructed in the elements of world politics and trained to loot is
essential and is used as a club to batter the culture, or if you prefer it, the
religion (since they are only different aspects of the same thing) which [the
Promoters] hate so bitterly" ("Whose Service Is Perfect Freedom,"
p. 75; Development of World Dominion 152).
Culture is a kind of language. Every language has its irregular conjugations
and declensions, its eccentric pronouns, its nonphonetic spelling. If we think
of language as something complete at any given point of time, these may seem objectionable,
contributing nothing to communication. The purist might be tempted to fix them.
However, if we think of language as a centuries-old life, then what the purist
calls language is a mere cross section of a language. To try to make the cross
section coherent in itself is inevitably to destroy the greater and more mysterious
logic of the language through time. The absurdities are not really absurdities,
they are low places. It is good to have low places, relics that speak to us from
the past. We do not cease our conversation with the dead, and in that there is
a world of meaning. Our culture is just like that. It may be homely and peculiar,
but it is ours. And we haven't time to learn a new one because, frankly, we have
so much to say to one another.