An interesting book of moderate length (189 pages) by the third-
positionist Hilaire Belloc which could be read in a single night, but
I'd advise taking your time, lest some of the insights be missed.
A long time ago, I remember reading that if you could see from one
end of the Cosmos to the other, what you would see is the back of
your head, due to the curvature of the rays of light. Thus, from
slave to serf to tenant farmer and medieval guild, to capitalist
democracy and the computer programmer unaware of his basic
The review below is from Amazon.com and covers most points very well.
In "Road to Serfdom" economist F.A. Hayek recognized the vision of
Hilaire Belloc's 1913 book "The Servile State". Writing during World
War II, Hayek said: "Even much more recent warnings [about Socialism]
which have proved dreadfully true have been almost entirely
forgotten. It is not yet thirty years since Hilaire Belloc, in a book
which explains more of what has happened since in Germany than most
works written after the event, explained that `the effects of
Socialist doctrine on Capitalist society is to produce a third thing
different from either of its two begetters - to wit, the Servile
In short, Belloc said, you get the worst of both worlds, a master
class (monopolist Capitalists) using the power of government
(Socialism) to control workers. There is name for the condition where
one group of people uses the force of law to control the work another
group of people; it is called "slavery".
He wrote this in a much different era and it takes some effort to put
aside some of the things we take for granted. Belloc saw things like
worker's compensation laws as baby steps toward slavery. They tended
to create in the law two classes of people, employers
(read "Masters") and workers (read "serfs"). It divided "us" into "us
"Servile State" goes full circle, beginning with slavery in the Roman
Empire. The slaves had a degree a freedom and could save up money to
free themselves, but they were still slaves. Under Christianity the
slave became a peasant with rights of inheritance. Christianity
introduced a rough egalitarianism ("And because you are sons, God has
sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts crying, `Abba, Father.' So
that he is no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, an heir
through God." - Galatians 4:6-7.) and the breakdown of the empire
encouraged rights by tradition (A farmer might say, "Well, we get to
keep 2/3 of everything we grow because it's always been that way.").
Belloc argues that rights were increasing throughout the Dark Ages.
His view of the time may be a bit rosy, but recent scholarship has
tended to lighten up that Darkness and vindicate Belloc's reading.
Then came the Renaissance and Reformation. The aristocracy began
taking commonly held peasant lands. In England the aristocracy used
these lands to graze sheep in order to sell the wool. Thomas More, a
fierce defender of traditional rights, lamented this at the time
in "Utopia": "`Your sheep,' I said. `Once they were gentle and ate
little, but now I hear that they have become so greedy and wild that
they are devouring the human population." Calvinism's theory of
predestination would come along to justify this redistribution of
wealth. The rich were rich because they were also the Elect. The
newly impoverished peasants were poor because they were the damned.
That the "ignorant peasants" tended also to cling to the Old Religion
of Catholicism only reinforced this view. The aristocracy took the
opportunity to extend their land monopoly by confiscating Church
lands as Christendom crumbled.
From there on, according to Belloc, things tended to go downhill, at
least in Europe. The State was growing in power and intrusiveness.
Pure sweatshop monopoly Capitalism and pure Communism were both bound
to fail, Belloc wrote. He said they were too unstable and he was
right. Perhaps we would create a society where each person would own
enough of the means of production to support himself. Perhaps we
could become nations of small farms and family businesses. Belloc
called this Distributivism and it owes much to Pope Leo XII's
encyclical "Rerum Novarum" where the pope outlines a just society.
Belloc, ever the pessimist, thought this would make a great ideal
society, but that people weren't up for it. Instead he thought we
would decline into a new thing, the Servile State. Whether it would
be the slavery of fascism or the Welfare "Nanny" State run amok, he
How interesting! Jives with a lot I've been learning abt English history from the Simon Schama videos I mentioned here once.
Belloc is a really intriguing character -- a Catholic militant but otherwise a strong rightist (not that one can't be both, by any means). I see he "has been charged with anti-Semitism", and came from an accomplished family.
Another interesting third-position theorist is Ernst Friedrich Schumacher. He seems to have picked up on Chesterton and Belloc and tried a practical application of Distributism. Two interesting books are "Small is Beautiful - Economics as if People Mattered" and "A Guide for the Perplexed."
I'm old enough to remember when we had a personal relationship with the local druggist, bakery, hardware store, butcher shop, florist, etc., in contrast to Walmart and the supermarket facelessness.
But I guess that's trying to move the clock back, Nelson. Today, convenience is the thing, so we'll just have to last it out. To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose.