The Servile State

Besides being a book on economic history by Hilaire Belloc, the Servile State is growing exponentially, extending toward the upper throws of the traditional middle class.  To understand this development properly, we must understand the historical evolution of labor in general terms:

Slavery which existed through the fall of the Roman Empire.  Remnants of slavery continued from conquests and invasions of foreign tribes and/or religious (Muslim or Christian) groups.  Instead of attempting to assimilate natives into new, foreign cultures, they were sold into slavery.

Serfdom, the development of slavery, began with the institution of royals, barons and counts.  These “lords” owned land from which serfs/peasants would work.  The rights of serfs evolved where they almost universally owned their means of production, including land of which they could grow crops and raise their families.  A small tax or duty was paid to the lord of the manor which he, in turn, invested in troops to protect the peasants’ lands.  By the end of the middle ages, this system was largely seen as highly sophisticated and equitable because it gave each person the opportunity to own private property, a key component which lacked in traditional slavery.  As Monarchy’s grew in power and influence, tension between the peasant class and nobility mounted.

“Let them eat cake” a phrase which never was said, yet epitomizes the conflict that was to come.  The French Monarchy, with a certain disregard for the economic well-being of its people, became subject to the new giullotine.  The thousands fallings of the blade sent shockwaves of economic import throughout Europe.  Fraternite, egalite, liberte sparked off, what many would argue, was anything but the utopic mantra emanating from the bloodbath.  The deaths of Louis and Marie echoed in the ears of every last noble of the serfs.  Thus, many nobles “freed” the serfs from their obligations, but took the best lands for themselves while allotting infertile, devalued lands to the peasants.

The next century was marred by revolution in nearly every major Western country.  France being the most conspicuously ill-directed, the United Stats, Italian States, German States, Spain and finally Russia all fell into revolt, and much these conflicts were predicated on the conflict between the bourgeoisie and the common man.

The Rise of the Capitalist, the Oligarchy, and their “slaves”.  The Industrial Revolution, beginning in the later half of the 18th century left the traditional peasant farmer with nothing but outdated knowledge and skills.  Textiles and steam power drove young men and women off the farm and into the city in search for new careers.  What they found, however, were largely abominable working conditions.  The english speaking west was notorious for their lack of regulation and budding oligarchy – Rockefeller personified the evils of Capitalism in the States, while the Isaacs did the same in England during the Marconi Scandal.

Our writer, Hillaire Belloc, was smack in the middle of the question on capitalism?  What to do with it?  It seems so unjust:  the rich become richer and the poor remain completely dependent on the most wealthy for employment, and in turn, their very livelihood.  Belloc saw this economic atmosphere devolving into a “Servile State” whereby either most would be “enslaved” to the oligarchy of private industry or enslaved to the political oligarchy.  The former was America, the latter was communist Russia to their extreme.  Today, however, both are in play in a unique way, especially in the United States.

The Current State of State

In some respects, Belloc’s prediction has come true.  With a current U.S. unemployment rate of 9.2% (14.1 million people looking for jobs who can’t find one), a large portion of Americans depend on federal and local assistance to pay their everyday  expenses.  And what are the goals of these programs?  Most would say the goal is to get these people off assistance and to get them employed.  In Belloc’s view, this is just trading one form of slavery for another, for grovelling for meager wages at the feet of the upper class is no less enslaving than being on public assistance.

Under these two forms of slavery, many aspects of human development fail to occur.  Primarily, the human being is seen as a mere machine or other animal incapable of developing intellectual virtues, that is to say, practical skills which produce value.  Since these skills aren’t present, further value to society  isn’t present.  And when value isn’t present, wealth can’t be accumulated or produced for the individual.  Only when the individual develops skills can they become free to create wealth – for themselves, their families, co-workers and employers.  And when this wealth is created, private property can be possessed.

The hope, Belloc says, is to recover the moral duty owed to our fellow neighbor.  In our global community of mankind, that duty extends to every living human being.  So when employers draw up business plans, standard operation procedures, policies, and furthermore, when they communicate to their employees, when they hire, terminate, and contemplate the seemingly infinite number of judgments they must make as leaders, they would do well to identify the place their business has in the life of everyone – from the janitor to the CEO, from the next door neighbor to a customer in China.  Business influences are vast.

Belloc’s Thesis

In short, Belloc saw a developing dichotomy in Western economics.  Either the worker will be devoid of his true working value, or he will become a subject to their governing State.  And whatever the outcome, all will become servile unless we recover something that was lost long ago.  For Belloc, that something lost was a keen understanding of morality, dignity and the path to happiness.  It is my passionate resolve to recover these three aspects in business organizations in order to make each human being more free.

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