The Servile State

It’s been a while since I’ve reviewed an econ book though this is as much about politics and history as economics.

Essay: The Servile State, Hilaire Belloc, 1912.

I first came across the idea of distributism on Jerry Pournelle’s Chaos Manor blog. Distributism was one of those attempts at a “third way” between capitalism and socialism or communism. In England, it was put forth by two noted writers, both Catholic, G. K. Chesterton and Belloc. In America, it was associated with Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker Movement.

My only previous exposure to Belloc was his alternate history essay “If Drouet’s Cart Had Stuck”. I got the vague impression that, like Chesterton, he longed for a return to the Middle Ages with the Catholic Church the predominant institution.

I still don’t know that much about Belloc, a very prolific writer. (You very well know some of his nursery rhymes and epigraphs without knowing it.) This short book, more of a pamphlet, is one of his books still discussed.

Distributism, of course, never caught on under that label though its tenet of decentralized economic power is still very much discussed. And, in this book, Belloc predicted it wouldn’t prevail. It’s a gloomy, concise bit of economic history which, despite some factors Belloc couldn’t see like massive immigration into western societies in the 20th century and automation, managed to be rather predictive.

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“Many Mansions”

The Alexander Jablokov series continues.

Raw Feed (1989): “Many Mansions”, Alexander Jablokov, 1988.Many Mansions

A great, funny, original story whose inspiration seems to be Marx’s (out of context) remark that religion is the opium of the masses.

Jablokov takes the metaphor literally and to much humorous effect. If religion is an opium, what do you do with opium? You smuggle it.

I loved the end with Kinbarn, religion addict and smuggler, overdosing on religion, his soul permanently in Nirvana.

One could quibble and ask why the Temporal Constabulary seems to be so unaware of the magnitude of the smuggling operation, or one could wish for more details on how religious addicts get their fix (going through the rituals? handling the icons? studying the theology?), but plausibility takes a back seat to this inventive, humorous tale.

Jablokov can handle humor here as well as horror in his “Deathbinder“. He is a writer of many moods and tones but always inventive.


More reviews of fantastic fiction are indexed by title and author/editor.

“Marxism, Science Fiction, and the Poverty of Prophecy: Some Comparisons and Contrasts”

The review series on the essays in Brian Stableford’s Opening Minds continues.

Review: “Marxism, Science Fiction, and the Poverty of Prophecy: Some Comparisons and Contrasts”, Brian Stableford, 1984.Opening Minds

Stableford looks at two attempts to prophecy the future.

The first is Karl Marx’s theory of communism and future social and economic developments.

The second is science fiction though, as Stableford notes, only “some of its early apologists – especially Hugo Gernsback” ever claimed to be prophetic. Still, a lot more hands and a lot more perspectives have went into trying to imagine the future in science fiction rather than Marxism.

I have not read enough Marx and none of his critic, Karl Popper, to comment on the accuracy of Stableford’s interpretation of either. He uses Popper’s criticisms to comment on science fiction’s abysmal record of prognostication.

I think Stableford is right in dismissing Popper’s claim that Marx confused law and trends. Marx’s “laws” are what others would simply call trends and predicting the future based on trends is done by a lot more people than just Marx’s disciples. Continue reading

“Science Fiction and the Mythology of Progress”

The review series on Brian Stableford’s Opening Minds: Essays on Fantastic Literature continues.

Review: “Science Fiction and the Mythology of Progress“, Brian Stableford, 1977.Opening Minds

Combining his training as a sociologist and literary criticism of science fiction, Stableford does a concise summary of the myth of human progress and how science fiction has used it.

Starting in the 18th century, the notion of progress in human affairs, “softened” manners, enlightened minds, and nations being connected by commerce, a move toward “still higher perfection” as French philosopher Turgot put it, started to appear.

It was an improvement sought in knowledge and technology.

However, soon the grandiose idea of “human perfectibility” was espoused by the French philosopher Marquis de Condorcet.

Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels also saw progress in human affairs though not pushed by knowledge but its manifestations in production technologies. Continue reading

The Two Narratives of Political Economy

Every once in a while I try to educate myself about the dismal science.

A retro review from June 14, 2012 …

Review: The Two Narratives of Political Economy, eds. Nicholas Capaldi and Gordon Lloyd, 2010.Two Narratives of Political Economy

The two narratives are the arguments for liberty and the argument for equality, the two ultimate sources for most of our political debates these days, our discussions over what government should and can do. This book traces the main points of that argument for roughly two hundred years. What causes enslavement, what causes inequality, what can eliminate either, and whether it is possible to solve both problems at once – if they are problems, is what this book covers.

While economics was already pretending to be a science and using some very simple equations, these selections all come from a time when economics was not pretending to be a values neutral description of the world separate from politics, just another impartial tool for government to pick up as needed. These authors all have a political picture of the world they wish to preserve or create, an idea of the best life for man.

It’s evident fairly early on Capaldi’s and Lloyd’s sympathies are with the liberty narrative. They both are affiliated with the Liberty Fund. Some exclamation marks get thrown around in the introduction to the equality narratives, and, at one point, they openly state the book is weighted towards the liberty narrative since the equality narrative is the default one of the modern world, an observation hard to argue with. Continue reading