John Milbank has an excellent post up at the ABC Religion and Ethics page called, “Can the Market be Moral? Peace and Prosperity Depends on a Reimagined Socialism.

Along with socialist historians R.H. Tawney and Karl Polyani, Milbank argues that capitalism in the west began as a result of systematically dividing morals from markets. Rather than the inexorable logic or march of history, capitalism was founded on a debased understanding of total depravity bequeathed from the Reformation and Counter-Reformation.

Unlike today’s economists, Milbank argues that the medieval era maintained an oikonomia “grounded in the view that there is an abundance of divine grace that is adapting itself to our finite needs. This is exactly the opposite of what we have come to think of as the economic, where we have infinite needs but the resources are scarce… This debased conception is precisely an inversion of the original meaning, in theology, of oikonomia.”

The solution for today then is a “civil economy socialism – if socialism is exactly the right word. That would be a socialism that would see the economy as fully part of civil society and would try to redesign the economic contract itself. It would be a socialism less inimical to the co-priority with production of exchange. A socialism still suspicious of usury like Thomas Aquinas, but also accepting, like Aquinas and unlike most classic socialisms, of returns on shares, if real risks have been undergone and real responsibilities co-shouldered.”

As Milbank concludes, “turning from the impersonal machine to the living but crafted social organism of interlinked personal relations in connected continuity with the organism of created nature is not merely a necessity of justice, but also of future world peace.” Amen.

Or so argues Heather Havrilesky in her recent New York Times article, Why Are Americans So Fascinated With Extreme Fitness?

But our new religion has more than a little in common with the religions that brought our ancestors to America in the first place. Like the idealists and extremists who founded this country, the modern zealots of exercise turn their backs on the indulgences of our culture, seeking solace in self-abnegation and suffering. “This is the route to a better life,” they tell us, gesturing at their sledgehammers and their kettlebells, their military drills and their dramatic re-enactments of hard labor. And in these uncertain times, it doesn’t sound so bad to be prepared for some coming disaster — or even for an actual job doing hard labor, if our empire ever falls.

It makes sense that for those segments of humanity who aren’t fighting for survival every day of their lives, the new definition of fulfillment is feeling as if you’re about to die. Maybe that’s the point. If we aren’t lugging five gallons of water back from a well 10 miles away or slamming a hammer into a mountainside, something feels as if it’s missing. Who wants to sit alone at a desk all day, then work out alone on a machine? Why can’t we suffer and sweat together, as a group, in a way that feels meaningful? Why can’t someone yell at us while we do it? For the privileged, maybe the most grueling path seems the most likely to lead to divinity. When I run on Sunday mornings, I pass seven packed, bustling fitness boutiques, and five nearly empty churches [emphasis mine].


In 2008 John Milbank claimed that Charles Péguy “is the man for the hour.” In his latest book, Beyond Secular Order, Milbank again evokes Péguy, writing, “there can be no storming of the Bastille as a historical event without its annual commemoration” (8). The quote in many ways paraphrases Milbank’s entire political theology.

It’s clear that for those interested in Anglican social thought – or, indeed, any form of social or political ecclesiology – that Péguy might indeed be the man for the hour. Consider this passage from Temporal and Eternal where Péguy discusses the true cause of the church’s decline in France.

All the Church’s difficulties stem from the point; all its real, profound, popular difficulties: from the fact that in spite of some so-called works among the working-class, under the cloak of some so-called social workers, and a few so-called Catholic workers, the factory is closed to the Church and the Church to the factory; that in the modern world, it too has suffered a modernization, has become the religion, almost solely the religion of the rich, and is no longer, if I may so express it, socially the communion of the faithful…

Thus the whole tension of the modern world, its whole tendency, is toward money and the whole drag toward money ends by contaminating the Christian world itself, causes it to sacrifice its faith and its morales for the sake of maintaining economic and social peace (55, 64-65).

The culprit – bourgeoisie capitalism – has been in plain sight all along for Péguy, which is why it is so difficult for so many to see.

Péguy’s analysis rings true for today, especially as we debate the issue of declining church attendance. Interestingly, Joel Kotkin discusses this topic in his latest book, The New Class Conflict. Declining church attendance is a product of a rapidly declining economic order. Although Kotkin doesn’t drill down on the reasons why, it’s clear that for most working class folks the weekend, let alone a Sunday, has all but been obliterated. We know that the fastest growing job market is the service sector, which often means late Saturday night and Sunday day shifts. Unless one’s parish celebrates a weekday Eucharist, one can be out of luck when it comes to receiving the body and blood of Christ.

So what is the solution? Do we take the Benedictine option and form communities of virtue? If not Benedict, then do we opt for the Dominican option? Or do we seek to re-enchant the world through a mystic Christendom?

Albert Camus

When we are assured that tomorrow, in the natural order of events, will be better than today, we can enjoy ourselves in peace. Progress, paradoxically, can be used to justify conservatism. A draft drawn on confidence in the future, it allows the master to have a clear conscience. The slave and those whose present life is miserable and who can find no consolation in the heavens are assured that at least the future belongs to them. The future is the only kind of property that the masters willingly concede to the slaves.

Albert Camus, The Rebel, 194.


Over the past ten years or so, we’ve heard a lot about the need to re-enchant the universe, largely from figures like Charles Taylor, John Milbank and their followers. Sadly, the term itself, as is the fate of most ‘buzz words,’ seems to have lost its original fervor, to say nothing of having provided ample fodder for critics.

Yet in The True and Only Heaven, Christopher Lasch gives us an important reminder of just how important this idea is for the Church Catholic.

The structure of modern experience gives little encouragement to the belief that we live in a benign universe. It gives far more encouragement to a sense of hopelessness, victimization, cynicism, and despair; and even the myth of progress, which for a long time provided a substitute for religious faith, has now lost much of its plausibility. For millions of people, the expectation of a better world – even if it is only the expectation of a greater supply of material possessions – is no longer experienced as a daily reality (386).

Re-enchanting the universe is not some abstract idea, nor is it a simple intellectual task. It is a summons to face the enemy head on. As Fr. Steward Headlam once remarked, “it seems to me to be the duty of every minister of Christ to do all he possible can to stir up a divine discontent in the hearts and minds of the people with the evils which surround them.”*

*Quoted in Norman, The Victorian Christian Socialists, 114.


Notes on Anglican Christian Socialism.

Were the Christian Socialist really socialists? And if so, what type of socialism did they embody and to what degree?

This question has haunted historians of the movement for some time. In The Victorian Christian Socialists, Edward Norman claims that they really were not socialist at all, as the main figures – Maurice, Ludlow, and Kingsley – were more concerned with morals and education rather than politics. According to Norman, the Christian Socialists never reached the pinnacle of a movement or tradition; in actual fact, they were too fragmented and disjointed.

John Milbank, in Were the “Christian Socialists” Socialist, rejects Norman’s reading. The temptation among historians, according to Milbank, is to read later socialism back into the early forms of Christian Socialism, and then to judge them by this standard. “A great deal of the historiography of Victorian Christian socialism, particularly since the Second World War, has been skewed by an understanding of socialism derived from later historical perspectives” (in The Future of Love, 63). Aside from being simply anachronistic, such readings neglect the fact that socialism itself at the time of the Christian Socialists was not a unified theme: Guild Socialism, Syndicalism, Marxism, Fabianism, Associationism, the Cooperative Movement, and the last remnants of Utopian Socialism were all vying for the title of “socialist.” In The Christian Socialist Revival, Peter d’A. Jones offers a more measured reading, arguing that the Christian Socialist movement was ad hoc and experimental in nature. Key members “tended to borrow whatever economic ideas and techniques seemed appropriate” from both secular and sacred sources, including Marx’s labor theory of value, the French Catholic socialism of Buchez, Guild Socialism, and even the Distributism of Belloc and Chesterton (448). As Ludlow observed in his autobiography,

In these days, when the term ‘Socialism’ is sought to be narrowed in the using of the word, and its history in this country as well as elsewhere, are so grossly overlooked that ‘Co-operation’ and ‘Socialism” are actually treated as antagonistic, both by men who call themselves Socialists and by men who call themselves Co-operators, one cannot too strenuously insist upon the cardinal value of Mr. Maurice’s declarations in the Tract in question:

 “The watchword of the Socialist is Co-operation; the watchword of the anti-socialist is competition. Anyone who recognizes the principle of Co-operation as a stronger and truer principle than that of competition has a right to the honor or disgrace of being called a Socialist” (188).

Further, Norman’s framing of the issue – the choice between political or moral – is problematic. For the Christian Socialists, there is no such distinction. Similar to Owenism, they sought the creation of a society where it would be easier for both women and men to be good. Unlike Owenism and the Fabians, they advocated a middle-out process rather than a top-down.

What’s often neglected in many of the major studies of the Christian Socialists is what they actually intended by the concept of the social. That is, readings of the movement tend to focus on the politics of association and the relative failures of their co-operative enterprises. But few seem to engage with the philosophical concept of the social itself, or at least how the social, economic and theological all hold together (Maurice Reckitt’s important work, Maurice to Temple, stands as one of the great exceptions).

For instance, buried within The Kingdom of Christ, F.D. Maurice makes an interesting critique against the voluntarism endemic to Bentham and his followers in favor of socialism. This is worth quoting in full:

The worship of circumstances is the habit of feeling into which the easy and comfortable part of mankind naturally fall; their inward thought is that their houses shall continue forever, and that thought makes them at once indisposed to change, and skeptical about the existence of any invisible government. When the poor men say, “We, too, will acknowledge circumstances to be all in all, we will cast away any belief in that which is invisible, this world shall be the only home in which we dwell,” the language may well appall all who hear. To one who sympathizes with the poor it is fearful, because of that which it shows they are ready to abandon. To one who has no sympathy with the poor it is fearful, because of that which it shows they are ready to take away from him. Nevertheless, be it observed, the force of these assertions lies in that very point in which they are anti-socialists – it is the “we will” that gives them all their meaning” (IV.iii).

Maurice’s Platonism is of course evident here, but what is most interesting is the distinction he draws between voluntarism and the reality of the social, and how from Maurice’s perspective, the former attempts to subsume the later.

A fire hydrant is seen with an "Out of Service" sign on a blighted street on the east side of Detroit

From Patrick Deneen’s How Red (State) is Marx?, in The American Conservative:

Here’s what Marx got right—profoundly, overwhelmingly, admirably right: capitalism is unforgiving to “conservatives,” those who care about neighborhood, Church, family, loyalty, tradition. As Marx and Engels eloquently described in The Communist Manifesto,

The bourgeoisie, historically, has played a most revolutionary part. The bourgeoisie, wherever it has got the upper hand, has put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations. It has pitilessly torn asunder the motley feudal ties that bound man to his “natural superiors”, and has left remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous “cash payment”. It has drowned the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervour, of chivalrous enthusiasm, of philistine sentimentalism, in the icy water of egotistical calculation. It has resolved personal worth into exchange value, and in place of the numberless indefeasible chartered freedoms, has set up that single, unconscionable freedom — Free Trade. In one word, for exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions, it has substituted naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation.

The bourgeoisie has stripped of its halo every occupation hitherto honoured and looked up to with reverent awe. It has converted the physician, the lawyer, the priest, the poet, the man of science, into its paid wage labourers

The bourgeoisie has torn away from the family its sentimental veil, and has reduced the family relation to a mere money relation….

The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionising the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society. Conservation of the old modes of production in unaltered form, was, on the contrary, the first condition of existence for all earlier industrial classes. Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.

Deneen adds an important note about Christopher Lasch, “Marxism’s best heir”:

Conservatives would do well to read some Christopher Lasch, who in the 1980s wrote a series of devastating critiques of the elite as those least likely to advance the cause of the working classes. An atheist Marxist early in his career, Lasch’s late work—especially his books The True and Only Heaven and The Revolt of the Elites—exposed the intellectual and financial elites for their irresponsibility and deep hostility toward the working classes. His fears that the society they envisioned—globalized libertinism—has come to pass, with these elites now reaping the advantages while the (unemployed) working poor “enjoy” the fruits of sexual liberation: the de-linking of individuals from robust and settled communities, the destruction of networks, cultures, and traditions that supported families and neighborhoods. He identified liberals especially for special and searing scorn, exposing their sentimental pity as a veneer that covered their main aim of outsourcing actual responsibility toward the less fortunate to a faceless, uncaring, distant and irresponsible government while they enjoyed the fruits of their outsized gains and organized license.

This is the kind of Marxism we need today. People who really want to work, make things, build families and communities and dig deep roots—Unite!



Is it the case that the left abandoned its revolutionary spirit when it shifted away from the syndicalist vision of decentralized ownership, local virtue, and yes, the family (gasp!), in favor of a politics of consumption, growth, and a capitulation to the wage system? Christopher Lasch paints a convincing picture that this is in fact what happened in the early twentieth century.

Several chapters in Lasch’s The True and Only Heaven recount how state-centered socialist movements quickly overcame the working class tradition of syndicalism. As Lash argues, the state socialists quickly realized that the only way to win the class war was to fight for better wages rather than the democratized ownership of production, as the syndicalists stubbornly insisted. Marxists, state socialists and liberals all rejected the claim to widespread ownership and local responsibility on the grounds that it was pre-scientific. They denounced it as petty-bourgeois and worst of all, utopian rather than evolutionary. The iron laws of historical motion had been set in place and any attempt to undue or question this law was regarded as hopelessly romantic or nostalgic. Growth and progress were the name of the game.

The Marxists and statists went on to advocate for “a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work,” with wage growth opportunities and better access to consumer goods soon becoming the hallmark of future progressive movements. The syndicalists, by marked contrast, attacked the entire notion of the wage system itself and resisted proletarianization in all its forms. They wanted to eliminate the distinction between capital and labor altogether. As such, artisans, yeoman farmers and other working class radicals look far more radical than their Marxists counterparts. Lasch provides a telling quote from Craig Calhoun’s The Question of Class Struggle: “the most potentially revolutionary claims were those which demanded that industrial capitalism be resisted in order to protect craft communities and traditional values” (210).

Lasch goes on to clarify what’s at stake in any historical recounting of syndicalist movement once it bumps up against the inexorable rhetoric of progress:

For those committed to the dogma of progress, the syndicalist sociology of virtue was deplorably regressive and “utopian,” and it found most of its adherents as they never tired of pointing out, in “backward” countries like France and Italy. They could not deny, however, that its adherents displayed an intensity or revolutionary conviction unmatched by any other social movement. Herein lay the scandal of syndicalism: it was retrograde but obviously revolutionary and therefore difficult for people on the left to dismiss. Its existence was particularly embarrassing to revolutionary socialists, because its radicalism made Marxism look tame by comparison and serve to reveal many points of agreement between Marxism and the “new liberalism” (335).

Is Lasch correct? Did he give the Marxist social vision a fair hearing? With the benefit of 20 years of hindsight following the publication of The True and Only Heaven, it seems clear that  Lash was onto something about “the narrowing of political debate” related to the wage system, consumption, and growth. In a telling footnote that appears more true today than ever before, Lash writes,

The growing acceptance of wage labor is only one indication of the narrowing of political debate in the twentieth century. Another indication is the narrowing of the kind of questions asked about work. In the nineteenth century, people asked whether the work was good for the worker. Today we ask whether the workers are satisfied with their jobs (208).

The only downside to Lasch’s reading is that he neglected the early Christian Socialist movement. Ludlow, Maurice, Kingsley, others, did not organize workers for the sake of greater profit sharing or rising wages; rather, they looked to control the enterprise from the bottom up. Like the syndicalist movement, the Christian Socialists rejected mechanical efficiency and centralization in favor of widespread ownership. This put them in the unfortunate position, in the eyes of critics like Sidney Webb, of having to place their trust in the working class along with their religious ideals. This also meant the much more difficult and painstaking task of working for a cultural as well as an economic revolution.



Sublunary Sublime wanted to take a moment to commemorate the life of the Anglican theologian, Rev Dr. John Hughes, who recently passed into the greater life of God.

Hughes’s work had an immense impact on the author of this blog, especially The End of Work: Theological Critiques of Capitalism and his essay in Adrian’s Pabst’s The Crisis of Global Capitalism.

From The Theology of Work:

For the life of faith, lived liturgically, everything is superfluity, grace, and yet, when we have done everything, offered all our work, we must still say, ‘we are unprofitable servants’, precisely because all true work, inasmuch as it participates in God’s work, is not ours but is given to us. Likewise, while we can have no control over the issue of labour in this life, cannot secure it against being thwarted; nevertheless, we trust, in the hope of the Resurrection, that no good work will ultimately be lost (228). 

In paradisum deducant angeli.

Notes for an upcoming research paper on the Anglo-Catholic Socialists 

That the record of the reformations of Israel, the social preaching of Amos or Isaiah, the Gospel of the Kingdom, and the history of the little band who turned the world upside down could ever have been used to bolster the doctrine of laissez-faire and the righteousness of unrestricted competition, is a paradox which no cynic would dare to invent, had it not in fact happened in the story of Evangelical Christianity in the first half of the last century.

~From Charles E. Raven’s 1920 Christian Socialism 1848-1854



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