Volume > Issue > Briefly: January 2009

January 2009

Third Ways: How Bulgarian Greens, Swedish Housewives, and Beer-Swilling Englishmen Created Family-Centered Economies -- and Why They Disappeared

By Allan C. Carlson

Publisher: ISI Books

Pages: 225

Price: $21.95

Review Author: Paul Bower

Most of us have grown up taking for granted a dichotomy of two essential views of mankind: capitalism and communism. These two worldviews exist as the basic premises upon which any idea of society is based. You view man either as a prime mover in the action of his own life, individual par excellence, or as a very small piece of a much larger mechanism designed for the happiness and prosperity of all. The problem with these two views is that they both reduce man to a mere economic unit. Thus, one can rightly see them as two sides of the same coin — which has not to this point been proven the only coin in the realm.

Allan C. Carlson, working closely with the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, and aided by a grant from the Earhart Foundation in Ann Arbor, sets out to examine social ideas and ideologies of the 20th century that eschewed both capitalism and communism. The result, Third Ways: How Bulgarian Greens, Swedish Housewives, and Beer-Swilling Englishmen Created Family-Centered Economies — and Why They Disappeared, is a fascinating examination of the will of citizens to self-govern.

The first subject of Carlson’s study is the distributist movement in early 20th-century Britain. Distribu­tism is used by Carlson as a blueprint for the various societies that he explores in the book, and it serves rather well, as all the movements he deals with share some basic tenets of distributism in one way or another. Fathered by G.K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc in the early 1920s, distributism sought to recreate the traditional role of the peasantry in England by making it possible for the vast majority of men to own their own property, however small that property might be. At the dawn of distributist thought, 90 percent of England’s population did not own property. Chesterton and Belloc, echoing Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical Rerum Novarum (1891), wrote about the primacy of private property: In order to be a good steward, one must have something to be a good steward over. The essential concept of dis­tributism, Carlson maintains, is that the family is the basic unit of society — one that cannot be adequately dealt with in merely economic terms.

Carlson does his best to defend this often misunderstood political system, which fell prey to many ad hominem attacks, mainly rooted in the fact that the formative meetings of the distributists always somehow ended up taking place in public houses. What fascinates author and audience about this movement is its steadfast claim that people are more than the total of their economic output. Bypassing the thought of Marx and Engels, as well as Adam Smith and other capitalists, Chesterton and Belloc envisioned a society in which man was applauded more for how good of a life he lead than for how much money he had when he shuffled off this mortal coil.

Immediately after his treatment of distributism, Carlson launches into a detailed history of the rise and fall of the “family wage.” During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the economies of the bulk of countries in the North Atlantic, as well as the U.S. and Australia, were based on the ideal of the family wage. In this system, Carlson maintains, a married man, with or without children, would necessarily make more money than a single man, owing to the fact that he was expected to financially support a family. The numbers overwhelmingly point to this novel idea being ultimately beneficial to families in particular and society in general. Unfortunately, according to Carlson, by the 1970s the idea of a family wage was all but removed from Western society.

In an interesting section of Third Ways, Carlson brings to light the work of seemingly out-of-place Russian economist Alexander Chaya­nov, whose subtle defense of the Russian peasantry during the early years of the Bolshevik government was seen as radical and dangerous to the state. Chayanov, writing under the pen name Ivan Kremnev, wrote a novella about a vastly different future from the one imagined by many figureheads in the Russian communist government. Published in 1920, The Journey of My Brother Alexei to the Land of Peasant Utopia envisioned an underling in the Bolshevik bureaucracy mysteriously waking up in Moscow in 1984. Society is run by an agrarian peasantry, which has outlawed cities with populations of over 20,000. The government and the state are seldom mentioned, and act only when needed by the peasantry. Ultimately, it is a family-centered and family-run society, in which the economy of the society is intricately linked with the family economy. What Chayanov saw as the glory of the traditional Russian peasantry, which had been decimated during the Bolshevik revolution, and completely wiped out later in the 20th century, was that its social and economic life was based on the family. Finances and political control were subservient to the health of one’s family, and in this way the Russian peasantry operated outside the parameters of both communism and capitalism.

Carlson’s essential idea in Third Ways consists of the primacy of the family and how the family has fallen under the boot heel of what Belloc termed the “servile state.” With the majority of property, as well as the means of production, being held by a scarcer minority than ever before, the mass of people in Western society are forced to eke out a living as wage slaves. While Carlson paints a rather bleak portrait of modern life, he finds hope in the examples of the past, and offers this study as a relic of what might have been, and what very possibly might yet come to pass.

Family and Civilization

By Carle C. Zimmerman. Edited by James Kurth. Introduction by Allan C. Carlson

Publisher: ISI Books

Pages: 337

Price: $18

Review Author: Mary McWay Seaman

The well-known Irish proverb, “It is in the shelter of each other that the people live,” has been cited for generations, but it was just decades ago that Carle C. Zimmerman put the shifting shelters of family, tribe, and government through rigorous research and analysis. His renowned study, Family and Civilization, was originally published in 1947. Zim­merman, a former Harvard sociologist, sorted families into three categories — trustee families, domestic families, and atomistic families — each with distinctive characteristics. His lavish sweep through history examined these family systems in ancient Greece and Rome; during the rise of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam; and through the Dark Ages, the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution, and both World Wars.

Trustee families (clans) boast large memberships within gated communities of kinship; they arise in the absence of civil authority. Not known to be communions of saints, they do, however, provide support and rough-and-ready law enforcement. Colorful examples of trustee families abound in the book, including the European barbarians who overran the Roman Empire, feudal families closing ranks during the Dark Ages, plantation-owning dynasties in the antebellum American South, and, interestingly, remnants of southern highland Scots/Irish tribes in the Appalachian/Ozark regions of the U.S. today. If blood is thicker than water, Zimmerman shows it running thickest in trustee families.

Domestic families emerge under orderly governments with stable economies; marriage and childbearing become common, valued goals. Independent of their clans, domestic families avoid crushing obligations to shirttail relatives. Zimmerman asserts that the domestic family system is ideal, stating, “Domestic familism leads to trade, commerce, migration and modern society.” His case that moral, developed civilizations exhibit a preponderance of domestic families is supported by history.

Zimmerman’s third family category — the atomistic — is the weakest, consisting of isolated couples or singles with few or no children. Atomistic families dominate cultures with low marriage and birth rates, and gain notoriety through rampant divorce, juvenile delinquency, sexual perversions, and public indecencies. They appear after catastrophes or wars as economies fail, churches weaken, traditions fade, children become burdensome, and governments become almighty. Careful to show that the transition from one family system to another often takes centuries, Zimmer­man saw Western families approaching atomism in 1947 while cautioning that “all three types — trustee, domestic, atomistic — are prevalent in any country at any time.”

For centuries, religious leaders and philosophers have worked tirelessly in support of domestic families. St. Augustine, sick at heart of the Roman atomistic family situation, envisioned the family in terms of fides (loyalty), proles (progeny), and sacramentum (indissoluble unity). After Rome fell, family systems evolved from atomistic to trustee under the barbarians, but Zimmerman credits the Catholic Church with advancing domestic families: “The church was an institution molded in the Roman Empire. It brought to us the fundamental conceptions throughout the ages of the proper relations between man and man, as developed in the best thinking of Greece and Rome.” Church power over marriage and family grew from the 10th to the 14th centuries, “the golden age of canon law,” and marriage became an indissoluble sacrament. The great saints and thinkers knew that all cultures have problems with their unmarried young men. Voltaire summed it up: “The more married men you have, the fewer crimes there will be.”

Zimmerman points to 19th-century atomistic family tragedies spawned by the Marxism, socialism, and nationalism that drove people from Europe to the new world. Arriving without traditional, domestic family support systems, many became susceptible to antisocial behavior. Marriage is shown to be the first bond to disappear as societies veer toward atomism; religious practice wanes, ordinary courtesies disappear, and communities embrace gurus, false prophets, and bogus self-help material. In 1947 Zimmerman could not have foreseen the millions of Latin American and Muslim immigrants pouring into the U.S. and Europe today — many hailing from trustee configurations and finding themselves shocked by atomistic new neighbors.

Zimmerman hoped that the identification of historic family trends through scholarship and teaching would protect and expand domestic families. But the book’s new edition includes essays by Bryce Christensen and James Kurth that dim such hope. Christensen’s comments recount the normalization and celebration of today’s atomistic social ills by entertainers, academics, journalists, and politicians hostile to traditional families. He claims that “only new St. Pauls and St. Augustines can break the family-destroying spell of progressive utopianism and fortify intellectuals and the general populace with the integrity necessary to resist the gravitation of the burgeoning secular state.”

Kurth offers an unsettling discussion of postmodernism’s denigration of religion and abandonment of Christianity in favor of an amoral multiculturalism: “The political, intellectual, and cultural elites of the West for the most part no longer believe in the values and principles that used to be ascribed to Western civilization, particularly those which were held by two of the traditions which shaped the West, the classical culture and the Christian religion.” Kurth’s final sentence offers little comfort: “The true answer to the question of what is to be done about reviving the Western family and Western civilization is that God only knows.”

This distinguished book is full of discouraging words about recurring historical trends that destroy domestic families — no matter their country, class, or creed. Sunnier souls might discount the impact of increasing numbers of atomistic families around us, but optimists and pessimists alike will be shaken by the scholarly projections in this account.

Our Father, Who Art in Bed: A Naïve and Sentimental Dubliner in the Legion of Christ

By J. Paul Lennon

Publisher: Book Surge Publishing

Pages: 379

Price: $15

Review Author: Brian Van Hove, S.J.

Irishman J. Paul Lennon, author of this autobiographical work, was a priest of the now much-embattled Legion of Christ for 23 years. Having left it behind in 1984, he went on to found the ReGAIN Network (www.regainnetwork.org), which provides documentation about the Legion and Regnum Christi, its lay branch.

The Mexican founder of the Legion, Fr. Marcial Maciel (1920-2008), was “invited” to retire to a life of prayer and penance by Pope Benedict XVI in 2006 after years of being investigated for sexual abuse. Until that time, Fr. Maciel was convinced that he would one day be canonized.

Through the aid of James Cardinal Hickey, former Archbishop of Washington, D.C., Lennon was able to function as a diocesan priest until 1989 when, a broken man, he left the priesthood to seek recovery from the wounds of his Legionary experience. He credits Cardinal Hickey with showing him kindness and understanding, in contrast to Fr. Maciel, who was known within the order as Nuestro Padre (“Our Father”).

To those who were alienated from Fr. Maciel, the secretive and hypochondriac founder was known as El Puma. Lennon’s book is one of the few sources in English (others are written in Spanish) that reveal the predatory nature of the highly regarded Maciel. Lennon, who entered the Legion at the age of seventeen, writes that he knew nothing of Maciel’s sexual activity with young men until years after he left the order.

The title of Lennon’s work refers both to the hypochondriacal and sexual proclivities of Fr. Maciel. Such a title may inhibit some readers from opening the book. Some readers may turn instead to the Legion’s own uncritical and adulatory self-history, The Legion of Christ: A History by Angeles Conde and David J.P. Murray (2008), which, Lennon says, is far from a truthful account. Lennon is far less graphic than the DVD documentary produced by Jason Berry (co-author of Vows of Silence, a 2004 exposé on Maciel and the Legion), which premiered in April 2008 at the Fifth New Orleans International Human Rights Film Festival.

In contrast to Berry, Lennon writes dispassionately of his subject. He has found solace in therapy to deal with the trauma suffered by the stifling Legionary life. He claims that one chief scar inflicted by this distorted “religious life” is an infan­tilizing of the personality. An unhealthy view of human sexuality is inculcated by Legionary training, which can only be described as prudishness, or what Lennon calls “angelism.” How far this is from Pope John Paul II’s theology of the body!

In violation of universal Catholic tradition for seminaries and religious communities, the Legion breaks the boundary between the internal forum and the external forum: A confessor or spiritual director may also be an administrator or religious superior to the same members. This is unimaginable in a normal seminary or religious order, but for the Legion it is common practice. The Founder even heard the confessions of his own subjects!

Paul Lennon was put in charge of a Legionary institution in Mexico soon after ordination to the priesthood. He makes the point that a Legionary school is a base for recruitment to the Legion’s novitiate or Regnum Christi. Schools are “fronts” for recruitment, not centers of study or the intellectual life. In fact, all Legionary apostolates exist for recruiting and fundraising, no matter their alleged purpose. This agenda leads to the creation of numerous “front” apostolates. Instead of thinking “with” the Church, the Legion wishes to think “for” the Church, especially in its attempt to dominate Catholic publishing and media.

The Church approved the constitutions of the Legion and Regnum Christi. Will history judge the Church harshly? Paul Lennon is by no means the only victim of this organization. He mentions other names in this book, Mexicans and Irishmen, including his friend Peter Cronin. Fr. Cronin, who initialized the concept of the ReGAIN website, was sued by the Legion’s lawyers. These tragedies should have been avoided. Innocent lives were “tossed away” by Fr. Maciel’s heartlessness. Lennon describes himself as a survivor, but others have not fared as well.

In recent years, several American dioceses have restricted or banned the Legion and Regnum Christi, including the Archdiocese of Minneapolis-St. Paul. More recently, the Archdiocese of Baltimore has moved against the Legion. But in an interview on June 11, 2008, Baltimore Archbishop Edwin O’Brien said ominously, “I got a call 20 minutes before my meeting with [Legionary] Fr. Raymond [Cosgrave] two months ago. Then I got a letter from another cardinal, and a phone call from a third cardinal the day before I met with Fr. Alvaro.” Fr. Alvaro Corcuera is the Superior General of the Legion. In other words, three curial cardinals in Rome protected the Legion from an American archbishop who was doing his duty and safeguarding his people, especially the youth.

While it is possible to oppose the Legion for the wrong reasons, the truth is served by administrative decisions such as that of Archbishop O’Brien. Paul Lennon would argue that such efforts are only a beginning.

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