Friday 15 May 2020

Bathrobe Servitude

Good morning! It's sunny again, and a reminder that central-east Scotland often sparkles in the sun. It is the west coast that is soggy: future tourists take note.

Yesterday Benedict Ambrose stuffed one end of the hose up the nose of the bathtub tap and watered the lawn and gardens. I stayed out of the sun, unfortunately, and dealt with work. I did not  go outdoors even at lunchtime or take a lunch break, which is not a sign of character but of my inability yesterday to keep my mind on the job. The horrors of working on and from the internet include the disintegration of the adult attention span.

Speaking of work, this morning I sat down with my coffee to read the fourth chapter of Integralism; it is entitled "Servitude." The opening sentences gave me quite a shock, for they seemed cheerfully accepting of the state:

"Servitude, or slavery, is the ownership of one person's labour by another. As such it is not contrary to natural law but it is an undesirable state."

"What do you mean 'not contrary to natural law'?"I inwardly shrieked.

I was vastly relieved to discover that by "servitude, or slavery," Fr. Crean and Dr. Fimister mean being employed by another. They distinguish between "chattel slavery," which "finds pseudo-legal expression in the idea that the master owns the person," and the slavery of merely working for someone else.  They also call "chattel slavery" a "tyrannical relation based on the false claim that one man may own the person and not simply the labour of another." Whew.

They discuss a number of just and licit forms of servitude. There is the servitude of felons in prison and of prisoners of war--and here I think of the Axis POWs sent to Britain and Canada to toil in the fields, and some liked it so much, they came back after the war for more.  Then there is the hereditary servitude of serfs, which is apparently just under certain conditions, and indentured servitude, which the authors see as a long-term work contract, and ordinary employment of employees by employers.

I am an employee, and my workplace is online, I occasionally start work in my bathrobe--hence the title of this blogpost.

There is much to enjoy in this chapter, especially the discussions of the origins of servitude, the injustice of wages too low for employees to save up to escape our servitude, and Pope Paul's 1537 condemnation of the devilish notion that the indigenous peoples of the New World "should be treated as dumb brutes created for our service." This last, by the way, was in Footnote 20, and by no means should you skip the footnotes as you read this interesting and instructive book. Footnote 24 features Pope Leo XIII's stirring rebuke of the worker-exploiting rich in Rerum Novarum; I recommend memorising it for future recitation to anti-Catholic Communist acquaintances.

There is a reference to the Jubilee of the Hebrew people of the Old Testament, for whom it was apparently an opportunity for land re-distribution as well as a chance to retire from indentured servitude. I would like to read more about that.

It is a short chapter, and I think I have covered the main points, so now I will indulge myself in more MTs. (Whenever I mark up material with pencil, I preface My own Thoughts with MT, so that I know it is mine and not the author's or authors' when the time comes to write the essay or the review.)

My first MT is "employees/tenants; servants; upper servants; poor relations; rich family" which roughly corresponds to English and Scottish society until after the First World War. I think there must have been versions of this all over the Western world. The richest branch of my family tree had tenants, employees and domestic servants in disintegrating numbers from the late 19th century until, I believe, the 1950s (or whichever Census proves that set of great-grandparents had a live-in housekeeper).

But one arrangement that interests me very much is Polish society in Lithuania in the 18th and 19th centuries  because of the Polish epic Pan Tadeusz . In Polish-speaking areas before and during the Partitions, there were peasants and there were an enormous number of aristocrats, many of whom were very poor and therefore had to work for their richer aristocrat relatives. There were also Jews, who were partly in mainstream society and partly not. (It's complicated.)

In Pan Tadeusz the poor aristocratic relations who manage things in Soplicowo for the noble families seem confident and honourable in their service. However, English literature of and about that period is full of the anguish of poor relations in their secondary status in households. Jane Eyre hated her rich relations so much, she didn't mind becoming a governess, which was the only paid employment considered at all suitable to gently born women with no money. However, becoming a governess is considered a terrible threat to other women throughout the English canon, and the poor relation who serves as a paid chaperone is a figure of fun in both the work of E.M. Forster and Georgette Heyer.

The American attitude to this is slightly different, perhaps. In Little Women, Meg bears her governess-servitude with quiet dignity, but we all know we're supposed to be sorry for her. Meg's sisters Jo and Amy serve as paid companions for their rich Aunt March, which Jo finds very boring and Amy does not. Naturally, this exalted in-family employment does not make them at all ineligible for the very rich boy-next-door. It also has its perks, as Amy discovers.

Interestingly, there seems to be no shame in fiction both light and heavy in a well-born young man becoming a secretary or a landless younger brother managing his older brother's estates. Usually younger brothers become military officers (expensive for their families) or clergymen (less).  But I may be digressing.

My second MT is FIRE, which stands for Financial Independence, Retire Early. There is a movement devoted to achieving this, combining intense hard work at high-paid employment with parsimony and strategic investment in the stock market. I am very interested in this movement  although, alas, I have not the skills that attract high-pay. According to Integralism, this self-sufficiency is something that we should all be able to achieve in a well-regulated society. However, Integralism is also rather down on "rapacious usury," from which I believe the stock market is not immune.

Thus, my third MT is the nobility of the trades compared to the professions, and the supremacy of farming and handcrafts over both trades and the professions. If you have your own farm, you have your own food and something to sell, and if you are a weaver (for example) you also have something to sell. Thus, a successful market gardener (especially who makes other things for sale during the winter) can be self-sufficient and thus has escaped the bonds of servitude.

Incidentally, by that logic freelance writers also avoid servitude but often not poverty. The freedom of freelancing is that one markets one's writing instead of writing for someone else. Some freelancers can actually make a living doing this whereas others pray for one of the increasingly rare staff rare positions. In fact, they are praying for servitude, trading in their freedom for money, rather like a  weaver's son abandoning his loom and putting on the livery of the local Big House. Still, if he collects enough tips, he will be able to buy his own pub one day, so there is that.

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