Foreword to “Return to Order”

by Brad Nelson   7/9/14

Here’s the introduction to John Horvat’s book, Return to Order: From a Frenzied Economy to an Organic Christian Society–Where We’ve Been, How We Got Here, and Where We Need to Go. I started reading this last night and so far, so good. For $4.95 for the Kindle, it would appear to be a bargain. I may do a full review if the book holds my interest and I make it to the end.

I found this foreword to the book itself to be pretty good:

Foreword by Harry C. Veryser

The argument presented in this book is very unique in that it is at the same time very old and very new. It reaches back through the philosophers to the thoughts of Plato and Aristotle. In his book, The Republic, Plato presents an argument that the state of the Commonwealth is the state of the individual souls writ large. Plato saw in democratic societies a danger that the desires of the people for bodily satisfactions would outrun the resources of the State and result, eventually, in a tyranny.

Aristotle also was concerned about the problems of the democratic society in which people, being free, would allow their desires to become disorderly and inimical to the common good. To overcome this tendency, he recommended a mixed or constitutional regime.

This argument was taken up in the mid-twentieth century by the prominent writer Russell Kirk. In an important essay, “The Problem of Social Justice,” Kirk argued that disorder in the soul reflects itself in disorder in the Republic.

In Return to Order, John Horvat II continues the argument by teasing out its application to the present twenty-first century. Applying it to the economic, financial, social, and finally moral crisis faced by Western civilization, he argues for a return to the cardinal virtues, particularly temperance. This is a new way of looking at the present economy and social order.

While Plato and Aristotle focused on the political factors—that of a democratic society and the inordinate desire of the population to use political measures to achieve their satisfactions—Horvat sees our enormous technological success, from the Industrial Revolution to our days as a major factor. With the increase in productivity, people were able to realize a standard of living hereto only dreamed of by past generations. As more desires were fulfilled, this led to frantic explosions of expectations. So great was the desire to fulfill these benefits that political society began to break down the necessary preconditions for a prosperous society. Intemperance reigned!

Since intemperance is a matter of habit, people became habituated to great expectations and fulfillment, until finally, in the words of one economist, they began to consume the seed corn of moral capital. In this way, self-interest exhausted itself in intemperance.

It was almost as if a young man, left with a great legacy by his grandparents, destroyed the trust fund. One could go back to Scripture to the story of the Prodigal Son where the young man, having received great wealth, wasted it on intemperate desires.

Horvat sees America as that type of society. He argues that the inability of many to control their desires led to “frenetic intemperance” setting the tone for society as a whole. And what was the consequence? The profligate wasting of a great inheritance.

Horvat calls us to return to our Father’s House, not just individually, but collectively. If we do this, not only will we restore our individual souls to a more virtuous state, but America will be a great and prosperous nation once more.


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Brad Nelson

About Brad Nelson

I like books, nature, politics, old movies, Ronald Reagan (you get sort of a three-fer with that one), and the founding ideals of this country. We are the Shining City on the Hill — or ought to be. However, our land has been poisoned by Utopian aspirations and feel-good bromides. Both have replaced wisdom and facts.
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14 Responses to Foreword to “Return to Order”

  1. Timothy Lane says:

    Human appetites are unlimited, but resources are limited. This naturally leads to the most spoiled seeking to make others pay for their appetites (e.g., Sandra the Slut). This is no doubt why such Founders as John Adams realized that our republic could only endure if the people remained moral (i.e., accepted limitations to their appetites).

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Adams was right.

      Here’s an excerpt from Horvat’s introduction:

      Our main thesis centers on a great imbalance that has entered into our economy. We do not think it is caused by our vibrant system of private property and free enterprise as so many socialists are wont to claim. What is at fault is something much more profound yet difficult to define.

      We believe that, from a perspective that will later become clear and not denying other factors, the main problem lies with a restless spirit of intemperance that is constantly throwing our economy out of balance. It is made worse by a frenetic drive generated by a strong undercurrent in modern economy that seeks to be rid of restraints and gratify disordered passions. We call the resulting spirit “frenetic intemperance,” which is now pushing the country headlong into the throes of an unprecedented crisis.

      In the course of our considerations, we will first look at this frenetic intemperance and see how it manifests itself in our industrialized economy. We will look at the unbalanced drive to reach gigantic proportions in industry and the mass standardization of products and markets. We will analyze its urge to destroy institutions and break down restraining barriers that would normally serve to keep economies in balance.

      We will then show how this frenetic intemperance has facilitated certain errors that extend beyond economy and shape the way we live. To illustrate this, we will discuss the frustrations caused by an exaggerated trust in our technological society, the terrifying isolation of our individualism, and the heavy burden of our materialism. We will highlight the bland secularism that admits few heroic, sublime, or sacred elements to fill our lives with meaning. Far from promoting a free market, frenetic intemperance undermines and throws it out of balance and even prepares the way for socialism. The tragic effect of all this is that we seem to have lost that human element so essential to economy. Modern economy has become cold and impersonal, fast and frantic, mechanical and inflexible.

      The bolded part is for Mr. Kung’s benefit. 😀 He’ll like that. He’s been saying much the same thing regarding libertarians’ supposed love for small government when their appetites actually facilitate the opposite. Mr. Kung? Mr. Kung? Do you agree? 😉

      • Timothy Lane says:

        I think the key is infantilism. A spoiled brat has only wants, and expects them to be fulfilled NOW. This is probably more or less the same thing as “frenetic intemperance”. People always want more than they can supply (except some of the super-rich), but part of the process of maturation involves learning that they can’t get everything they want. Liberals oppose that maturation, partly because infants are easier to control.

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          I totally agree, Timothy, about the infantilism. This is a direct product of the hippie generation, in my opinion. Everything about them was juvenile. “Anti-establishment” actually meant “anti-grownup.”

          Other than black light posters, I can’t think of a single thing that came from the Flower Power generation that wasn’t regressive.

          I’ve read a little more into this book and it’s arguing some very fine and difficult points about capitalism (favorable to it). This isn’t Pope Francis, let’s just say that. I’ll read a bit more and I’ll see in the future if I can sum up what he’s trying to say.

          No wonder libertarians love their simple bumper sticker slogans. Actual reality is very very complicated. As Horvat says about capitalism:

          The ambivalence of the term “capitalism” is very well expressed in the encyclical Centesimus Annus of Pope John Paul II when he answers the question of whether “capitalism” had triumphed over communism.

          He writes: If by “capitalism” is meant an economic system which recognizes the fundamental and positive role of business, the market, private property and the resulting responsibility for the means of production, as well as free human creativity in the economic sector, then the answer is certainly in the affirmative, even though it would perhaps be more appropriate to speak of a “business economy,” “market economy” or simply “free economy.” But if by “capitalism” is meant a system in which freedom in the economic sector is not circumscribed within a strong juridical framework which places it at the service of human freedom in its totality, and which sees it as a particular aspect of that freedom, the core of which is ethical and religious, then the reply is certainly negative (Centesimus Annus [Washington, D.C.: United States Catholic Conference, 1991], no. 42).

          I’ve read a number of things like that, an I’m still not exactly sure if he’s saying anything. But I like this line from Horvat:

          We should instead focus on a second more unrestrained current, which is not, properly speaking, a formal sector but a volatile undercurrent that has a destabilizing effect on an economy.

          This undercurrent is defined by what we will call frenetic intemperance—a restless and reckless spirit inside modern economy that foments a drive to throw off legitimate restraints and gratify disordered passions.

          This frenetic intemperance is not specifically an economic problem but a moral and psychological one deep within the soul of modern man that manifests itself in economy.

          My bolding.

          • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

            This frenetic intemperance is not specifically an economic problem but a moral and psychological one deep within the soul of modern man that manifests itself in economy.

            A wonderful observation. It shows why the simplistic Libertarian idea of leaving everything to the “market” is so silly and shallow.

          • Timothy Lane says:

            It was the hippies who said, “Don’t trust anyone over 30.”

        • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

          I think the key is infantilism.

          I agree both the Left and many Libertarians are somewhat infantile.

          “Gimme, gimme, gimme, I want, I want, I want” is the Left’s motto, and:

          “I can do anything I want” or “You can’t make me do it” are the mottos of the Libertarians.

          regarding libertarians’ supposed love for small government when their appetites actually facilitate the opposite.

          I view many Libertarians as something like spoiled children of protective parents. They can go around and act like idiots and brag they can do whatever they want no matter what mommy or daddy say. But when push comes to shove they are willing to let mommy and daddy clean up any problems which they can’t get out of.

      • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

        Absolutely!

        Libertarians seem to believe that each thing a person does is a discrete action which has no effect on anyone or anything else. Those who don’t actually believe it to be true certainly think that is the way the world should work.

        Unfortunately for their gimcrack philosophy, the world does not work that way.

  2. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    One of the things that makes the free market (aka “capitalism”) difficult for even moral people to wrap their minds around is because the free market necessarily has a very utilitarian core to it.

    If you need to be loved 24/7, get a dog. But those who venture into business (as employee or boss) must be willing to accept that good and decent people might buy a product or service from some other person based entirely on price (or perhaps on some trivial feature). Granted, one does develop good working relationships with people whereby the relationship is not always this coldly utilitarian. It is common for good customers to say something such as, “I want to work with you on this, but the price I can get at Source Y is for x-amount of dollars. Can you come close to that?”

    And quite often the customer will not even bother letting you know that someone else now has the business that you once had. They just scram for the better price, often throwing away decades-long relationships for literally a few pennies. Understanding this factor is what is called learning to grow up and live in the real world of the free market. The free market, in practice, is not going to make bishops or Popes jump for joy at every aspect.

    But it is this utilitarian aspect that makes the free market so powerful. There is this constant pressure for betterment and efficiency. And if there are social (aka “hurt feelings”) prices to be paid by being measured for one’s worth or ability to produce a product or service, only the panty-wastes and ninnies amongst us forget that the costs involved (both personal and economic) for the government to try to run the economy are far, far worse. In worse-case scenarios you end up with the great famines caused by Mao and Stalin that killed (often intentionally) millions.

    Yeah, it sometimes hurts to be rejected, whether in love or the marketplace. But real people — if they wish to rise above the level of the tribal animal — must be willing to pay those costs. And the meritocracy of the free market offers rewards for all if you can find your niche. And there is a niche for everyone.

    And finding your niche often means understanding yourself as more than just an economic animal. There is much truth to the idea of making less money but being happy in your job. True, it is very difficult to resist the cultural pull toward the complete and total measurement of one’s worth by how much money one makes, and the measurement of one’s happiness by how much “stuff” one has. But, again, are we men or are we mice? Must we be little more than a mindless cog in a culture of the lowest-common-denominator fads and fashions?

    This is then where the Popes and bishops may step in and tell us that the measure of life is, and must be, more than our wealth, fame, or amount of “stuff” we accumulate and the only way we can gain such a perspective is to consider God. I think very few religious people can articulate this general overview of the free market if only because so many of them are not actually in the market. Their intentions may be good, but they tend to pontificate from the sidelines.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      One might note that the marketplace is neither moral nor immoral (at least not inherently), though it can sell products that qualify either way (e.g., Bibles or prostitution). Thus, if racial discrimination is beneficial to the business, it will readily discriminate. But if racial discrimination is harmful (by angering those discriminated against without increasing sales to those favored), they won’t. This is why there were Jim Crow laws (such as the law requiring blacks to go to the back of the bus). The transit companies found that blacks might boycott them for such treatment, but most whites didn’t care either way.

      • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

        One might note that the marketplace is neither moral nor immoral

        I am not sure this is really the case. I agree with the view that the “market” at any given moment is always right, i.e. it is what it is. This is one of the first things taught in investing.

        However, a marketplace can become immoral when government restricts consumer choices and forces them to purchase products which they would not otherwise buy. This is one of the fundamental complaints against Obamacare.

        So I would say the free exchange of goods between people without undue influence of government in the exchange, is moral. Of course, the definition of the word “undue” if the hard part to agree on.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        I get your point, Timothy, and agree. On the other hand, reflecting what Mr. Kung is saying, the voluntary exchange of goods and services (the “free” in “free market”) is inherently moral compared to the many alternatives.

        I’m not talking about you or Mr. Kung, by any means, but this topic becomes needlessly complicated by the often well-meaning goody-two-shoes who pontificate upon high about how some person who is motivated by “greed” is doing some horrible thing. Well, he could be motivated by “greed” or just to realize a dream or to feed his family. So long as he plays by the rules, and the trade is free and not corrupt, then no one but the Angels should care about a man’s motivation.

        And I would add on to that, the free market is a way to healthily and productively channel some of men’s darker motives. Again, these aspects aren’t going to be easy to understand by the naive Sunday school teacher or the committed aggrieved Marxist. But these are the realities.

        Where Popes and priests often go wrong on this subject (although JP II was more adept than most) is their lack of acknowledgment that there are spheres of influence that are necessarily outside of strict moral concerns, per se. The free market has that utilitarian aspect to it, and it wouldn’t be a market if it didn’t. Sorry, but everyone has to earn a living. That’s the way God ordered reality.

        And it is all well and good to say that one should be motivated by “the greater benefit of mankind” when producing some new widget for the market. But if some schmuck is motivated to buy an Island in the Caribbean, why should I care if he pays for it by discovering a cure for cancer?

        Popes and priests will often try to apply too much morality into this market. Libertarians make the opposite mistake and just assume that there is no higher aspect than the exchange between individuals. For the libertarian, there is nothing wrong with the exchange of slaves, for example.

        In that respect, they forget that “market” and “free market” are not the same things, for a slave would hardly think such a market is free. And they forget that what can draw the distinction between those two things in the first place is the moral dimension. Such a dimension does not necessarily have preeminence. But without it the free market is not free and it is not good.

        • Timothy Lane says:

          Yes, it’s all well to say we should be motivated altruistically for the benefit of mankind, but for all practical purposes no one is, and anything based on the assumption that people are or will be isn’t going to work. That’s the reason why the free market is far and away the best way to allocate goods and services.

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