At first, Marx seems to accept much of the traditional view of happiness as a moral endeavor, stating that capitalism naturally deprives the worker of moral goods through (1) the division of labor, (2) the dependence of the laborer on capital for his employment, and (3) the increasingly mechanized state of manufacture (Marx 289, 373, 399; see our first post for Works Cited). Like Belloc, he laments the fact that workers now use every opportunity to earn a buck (or rather, to earn a buck for their employer), while sacrificing the freedom for intellectual and moral development:
Time for education, for intellectual development, for the fulfilling of social functions and for social intercourse, for the free-play of his bodily and mental activity, even the rest time of Sunday (and that in a country of Sabbatarians!)—moonshine! But in its blind unrestrainable passion, its were-wolf hunger for surplus-labour, capital oversteps not only the moral, but even the merely physical maximum bounds of the working-day. (Marx 373)
This sort of capitalism-gone-wild has therefore substituted the necessary and essential (food, drink, shelter, etc.) for the highest and most humane ends of human life (character, community, culture). In other words, capitalist greed has made us slaves of the unrighteous mammon for which we work (Mat 6:24); we have traded freedom for wealth and in the end acquired neither. He goes on to say, “In fact, the realm of freedom actually begins only where labour which is determined by necessity and mundane considerations ceases; thus in the very nature of things it lies beyond the sphere of actual material production” (441).
While these facts were all-too-true in Marx’s own day, Smith again understands these unintended consequences rather well, noting that the most specialized workers are rarely challenged mentally through their labor itself and will therefore require additional instruction outside of the workplace to ensure they are not made into mere extensions of their mechanical instruments. Without such additional instruction, Smith warns that a gradual dehumanization of the worker will occur.
He naturally loses, therefore, the habit of such [inventive] exertion, and generally becomes as stupid and ignorant as it is possible for a human creature to become. The torpor of his mind renders him not only incapable of relishing or bearing a part in any rational conversation, but of conceiving any generous, noble, or tender sentiment, and consequently of forming any just judgment concerning many even of the ordinary duties of private life. (Smith 5.1.3)
He goes on to cite particular examples in Scotland, which had raised the degree of literacy considerably over only a few generations, and had led to its reputation as both the poorest and the most well-read nation in Western Europe. For Smith, then, physical labor and intellectual development were not mutually exclusive, but rather vital to the welfare of both the individual and the community in which he lives and works.
In fact, it can be argued that capitalism has even provided the means to achieve the combination of labor and freedom for intellectual activity that both Smith and Marx sought, as Shaffer has recently pointed out:
Contrary to Marxist fears that industrialization would lead to ceaseless labor, economic data show that industrial advance has everywhere decreased the share of time we devote to labor. . . . The liberation we should look to from late capitalist prosperity is . . . liberation from the quotidian and mundane, liberation found in liberal learning and a devotion to the good life. The prosperity brought by global capitalism should be considered precisely the condition necessary for a rebirth of the life of the mind.
This can only partly be blamed on industrialism. As Belloc states, “It was not machinery that lost us our freedom; it was the loss of a free mind” (83). And yet, like Marx, we are our own undoing. We have given up the very values that have made the West (and America) great: independence, self-reliance, local governance, voluntary activity, love of neighbor, respect for custom and tradition, and a healthy suspicion of human government. In other words, “Almost all the traditions and institutions in which democratic moral genius has found its most characteristic expression, and which in turn have molded the national character and the whole moral climate of England and America” (Hayek 14).
Unfortunately, prosperity has too long dominated our electoral history to the detriment of these moral goods. As Rod Dreher states in Crunchy Cons, “The undeniable fact is that free-market, technology-driven capitalism, for all its benefits, tends to pull families and communities apart” (ch. 3). Any conservative critique of the modern capitalist order must therefore return to the humane, ethical, social and historical roots of freedom before considering practical measures for reform. As Dreher outlines in his “Crunchy Con Manifesto”:
We believe that modern conservatism has become too focused on material conditions, and insufficiently concerned with the character of society. The point of life is not to become a more satisfied shopper. . . . We affirm the superiority of the free market as an economic organizing principle, but believe the economy must be made to serve humanity’s best interests, not the other way around. Big business deserves as much skepticism as big government. . . . Politics and economics will not save us. If we are to be saved at all, it will be through living faithfully by the Permanent Things, preserving these ancient truths in the choices we make in everyday life. In this sense, to conserve is to create anew.
So for this reason, and in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, we can sing with Switchfoot, “John Perkins said it right, ‘Love is the final fight.’ . . . There is no sound louder than love.”