Saturday, May 27, 2017

Robert A. Nisbet on "The Servile State"

The eminent American sociologist Robert Nisbet (1913 – 1996) wrote an insightful introduction to Belloc’s The Servile State (Liberty Fund, Inc. publication). Here are some brief excerpts from the introduction:

“SOME readers of this book may, by virtue of their own definition of “capitalism,” take umbrage at Belloc’s indictment of it, but they should understand that Belloc’s great was the widest possible distribution in a population of individual, private property, and the freedom to use this property as its owner saw fit. Some would define capitalism with its free with its free market in precisely these terms; but, as I have noted, for Belloc capitalism denoted first the kind of monopolistic expropriations that went with the Tudor kings and second the growth of large-scale, corporate, property-aggregating industry, which with its conversion of so many individuals into a propertyless condition left them wide open to the advances of collectivism and the servile state. But if Belloc disliked the capitalism of his time, he loathed and feared the kinds of opposition to and controls on capitalism which were the substance of Lloyd George’s “liberal” reforms in England, reforms which were forming the very warp of the servile state in their restrictions upon individual economic liberty.”

“THE hard truth is, the first half of the present century has to be seen as the period in which everything Belloc shows us to have begun in the Reformation—creation of the propertyless masses and of the despotic national state—ripened.”

“IF the greatness of a book had to be assessed by the criterion of success in effecting large-scale changes in society, the The Servile State would have to be pronounced a failure. But, then, so would Aristotle’s Politics, More’s Utopia, Adam Smith’s (so often misunderstood) The Wealth of Nations, The Federalist—from whose republican, decentralist ideals we have fallen so far—Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, William Graham Sumner’s The Forgotten Man and Albert Jay Nock’s Our Enemy the State, to name of few over a long period of time. Happily, we do not measure classics by their power to effect major changes in governmental or economic policy. We do so, rather, by their perceived qualities of insight, wisdom, and idealism, and their capacity to illuminate reality, to point out the difference between the vital and the ephemeral, and to save us from sophistical beliefs. Great books are beacons. Even though despotism in its many forms were to spread farther across the world than it has, even if what Belloc called the servile state were to become total reality in America, we should still have in our libraries, I pray, those books which allow us to know the truth, to know what the requirements of a free society actually are. The Servile State is one of these books, and no one wholly acquainted with its contents could very easily be made, it seems to me, the willing, the complaisant subject of such a state.”

“I am not without hope that The Servile State, if it is read as widely and deeply as it should be read, may yet prove to be more than a classic; may prove to be a force in the transformation of society.”

© Liberty Fund, Inc. 1977

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