ForthWrite For Christ

Writing to free the prisoner of one idea, crossing the bridge of paradox to truth, serving the legacies of Chesterton and Lewis who defended their faith in Christ

The Servile State Again

Written in 1917, “The Servile State Again” is a continuation of the theme of “The Church of the Servile State” featured on Forthwrite for Christ last week.   It’s an answer to the question “how did we get here” and “here” being what the economists want us to repeat like some catechism: the slow recovery from the Great Recession.   The job framework, as some of us – without raising our hand in class – answered long before it was being admitted by the economists, has permanently shrunk.  Self-sufficiency is the new byword.  You can see the slow (and not so slow) evidences gathering around your towns as you see technology encroaching upon support jobs like cashiers and such.  Cutting costs, cutting spending, cutting employees.  Yes, the word is out: you must provide a real service or product yourself to make it in the new economy.  Or you need to make sure that education you paid for has been directed toward making you a “value-added” employee. Unions have been slowly eradicated in country after country as the protections so dearly won by them for the worker are being lost to the globalized company, their international management strategies and the philosophies of the Human Resources department.   These departments are the ones who set the rules for the stage of employment in the new globalized economy, the rules that they are so careful to remind everyone are in compliance with what is legal – which include so many things that we are told are for our protection such as downsizing and early retirement and outsourcing and plant relocation.   It is the Human Resources profession that brings us to today’s post which deals with a connective theme to our forthcoming quote from the essay “The Servile State Again” by G. K. Chesterton.  It is about someone telling you their profession and its rules exist to protect you, the worker.  Only the question is…protecting you from what, exactly?  And for whose benefit?

The setting is Germany and England around 1917.  The stakes are smaller.  The delivery almost is as if it is a classroom model of future  things yet to come, future things of our day.  And as you read, see if you can see that they have come.

If anyone ask how this extreme and unmistakable subordination of the employed to the employers is brought about, we all know the answer. It is brought about by hunger and hardness of heart, accelerated by a certain kind of legislation, of which we have had a good deal lately in England, but which was almost invariably borrowed from Prussia. Mr. Herbert Samuel’s suggestion that the poor should be able to put their money in little boxes and not be able to get it out again is a sort of standing symbol of all the rest. I have forgotten how the poor were going to benefit eventually by what is for them indistinguishable from dropping sixpence down a drain. Perhaps they were going to get it back some day; perhaps when they could produce a hundred coupons out of the Daily Citizen; perhaps when they got their hair cut; perhaps when they consented to be inoculated, or trepanned, or circumcised, or something. Germany is full of this sort of legislation; and if you asked an innocent German, who honestly believed in it, what it was, he would answer that it was for the protection of workmen.

And if you asked again “Their protection from what?” you would have the whole plan and problem of the Servile State plain in front of you. Whatever notion there is, there is no notion whatever of protecting the employed person _from his employer_. Much less is there any idea of his ever being anywhere except under an employer. Whatever the Capitalist wants he gets. He may have the sense to want washed and well-fed labourers rather than dirty and feeble ones, and the restrictions may happen to exist in the form of laws from the Kaiser or by-laws from the Krupps. But the Kaiser will not offend the Krupps, and the Krupps will not offend the Kaiser. Laws of this kind, then, do not attempt to protect workmen against the injustice of the Capitalist as the English Trade Unions did. They do not attempt to protect workmen against the injustice of the State as the mediaeval guilds did. Obviously they cannot protect workmen against the foreign invader–especially when (as in the comic case of Belgium) they are imposed by the foreign invader. What then are such laws designed to protect workmen against? Tigers, rattlesnakes, hyenas?

Oh, my young friends; oh, my Christian brethren, they are designed to protect this poor person from something which to those of established rank is more horrid than many hyenas. They are designed, my friends, to protect a man from himself–from something that the masters of the earth fear more than famine or war, and which Prussia especially fears as everything fears that which would certainly be its end. They are meant to protect a man against himself–that is, they are meant to protect a man against his manhood.

And if anyone reminds me that there is a Socialist Party in Germany, I reply that there isn’t.

When the raw resources, such as land and the things in and on the land -which the economist teaches the young in its introductory courses at the universities – are obtained from the common man’s possession for something “better”, business is ready to boom and protect the man by supplying him his wants and his needs.  But the question arises: didn’t he already have those means at his disposal before the economist took them?  That is, by exercising his freedom and manhood, he could have supplied for himself what he needed, could have depended on an almighty God to bless that provision.  Instead, he gave away his land and the things on it and in it to someone else, a servile state,  who decided to protect him from himself and make itself a god.

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