Sunday, June 04, 2006

Nursery Rhymes No. 1: Property

by G.K. Chesterton

Little Bo-Peep has lost her Sheep
But hopes that mutton will soon be cheap
When so many cooks are nothing loth
For the task of spoiling the mutton-broth.
And the lords of the Meat Trust, she has been told,
Have cornered mutton and "got it cold"
Through experts, each guaranteed as fit
For the duty of making a hash of it,
In mutton cutlets and mutton pies
She endeavours in vain to recognise
The face of a single personal pet . . .
. . . But Woolen Goods Will Be Cheaper Yet
In shirts and shapes of every size
For pulling the wool over mortal eyes;
And Bradford mills are a lovely sight
Rows and rows of them, brisk and bright . . .
. . . But somehow or other they never recall
The days she walked on the mountain wall
Where the Shepherd Kings of an elder sky
Hoary as hills on the hills trailed by
And something went with her march along
Of David's valour and Virgil's song
When her voice was a clarion calling a clan
And her crook was a sceptre, the sceptre of man,
To gather her flock where the eagles fly
Or lay down her life when the wolf went by.

Little Bo-Peep is paid in full
Stuffed with mutton and choked in wool
But little Bo-Peep has lost her Sheep
And cannot do anything else but weep.

* * *

This poem brings us down to the root of the conflict between distributism and the capitalist/socialist theories. (John wrote about this on This Red Rock, and I'm assuming that you've already read that.) The distributists will not deal in numbers -- a fact that frustrates economists raised on mathematics -- simply because they think there are things more important that cannot be measured in numbers.

Certainly capitalism produces more than other economic systems. There is plenty of wool and mutton to go around without the small shepherd. But something is lost when the small shepherd is exchanged for a conglomerate. "Merely poetry and sentiment," perhaps the capitalists will scoff, and go back to their numbers. "One of the perfections of human nature," would say a distributist philosopher.

Man is not made to be a cog or a number. He is a man, and he is made to be free. The Church has always taught that private property is a good for man. Capitalism allows private property, but does not make it easy to get or maintain. There must be a system in which it may be encouraged, so that it is easier for a single man to own a single farm or business than it is for a group of millionaires to own vast tracts of land, enormous factories, or chains of stores.

It is not important to me whether the system that will allow this is exactly what was planned by the distributists of the early twentieth century, or whether in our circumstances other means must be found. But it is important that man is given the opportunity to possess property of his own, hindered neither by an over-powerful government, nor by over-powerful businessmen.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Nice story.

: )

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