Friday, March 30, 2007

Commonplace, Enriching Work

Godspy reviews Look Homeward, America by Bill Kauffman (ISI Books, 2006). It looks to be a direct descendant of the Distributist movement of the early 20th century (those who don't know that Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin of the Catholic Worker movement grew from this branch of Catholic social theory ... well, need to know better). The use of such knee jerk terms as "radicals" and "anarchists" in the subtitle are, in my opinion, meant for book sales more than accuracy.

Reviewer Caleb Stegall emphasizes that this isn't a nostalgic romanticism, but a reorienting the fault line from the false dichotomy of right/left, Republican/Democrat to that "between materialists who recognize only a temporal order and those who admit to a higher, transcendent order." An unfortunate equating this movement with an idyllic "Americanism" can be skimmed over if one uses it simply as a marker pointing to a more transcendent goal. To wit, Kauffman writes:
[T]he most ennobling work we do is seldom
remunerated in greenbacks. Bearing and raising
a child, cultivating a garden, just being there for
a sibling or friend to lean on: this “work” is
compensated in a currency far more valuable
than Uncle Sam’s paper. This, in fact, is the
work that should be honored on Labor Day. The
work we do for “nothing.” (For everything,
really.) The work that enriches us as human
beings; that binds us to our families and our
neighbors; that shrouds even the most commonplace
of lives in glory. This is the work
whose coin, whose only coin, is love.
For an example of such ora et labora in action visit Christopher Blunt's The Yeoman Farmer blog.


Porthos said...

Caleb Stegall! A leading crunchie!

Good stuff here. This should be developed.

Athos said...

Ooooh, good. If a leading light of the contemporary genre known as the 'crunchies' leads one to the Distributists, then I'll be right glad hearted. Whoever carries the candle of ontological substantiation for yuz!

Porthos said...

Specifically, this definition of work(s) resonates.

In morning prayers, there's the opening, "O Jesus, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary I offer you all my prayers, works, joys, sorrows and sufferings of this day . . ." (There are alternate wordings.)

"Works" here means just about everything we physically do. Just as there's an overly commercialized conception of "work" that misses the point entirely (as delineated in the review), there may be, among nervous and scrupulous souls, an equal and opposite tendency to blank out all of the day-to-day doings that can't be accounted for as "faith activity." This results in an inability to surrender large portions of the day to God as an offering, and a tendency to walk under a cloud of self-condemnation for all the "good works" we are not doing (and thus the circumstances that prevent us from doing them seem a curse, when in fact they are a gift that is to be offered back in return).

Porthos said...

Stegall was mentioned by me in the comments under the distributionist post. The crunchies basically are distributionists. Stegall certainly is. That was always clear to me from the discourse around Dreher's book. Stegall has arranged his life (rather dramatically) and developed his outlook very much along explicitly distributionist principles--albeit rather complex ones.

Athos said...

I am sorry that The New Pantagruel is no longer with us to nip and bite at the heels of modernism and modernists. Being a lawyer, Stegall has a complexity and consistency that would be hard, say, for a spouse to live with, but would be a good friend for keeping you honest ... and maddening as well.

I promise I will learn more about "crunchies", Porthos, but, you know, well, I am given to bouts of idealizing all things of the Middle Ages. I'm sure the stench of my fellow worshipers alone in a Catholic medieval setting would send me packing back to the future of Dial, Right Guard, and Listerine.

Porthos said...

Face it, Ath: you are a crunchie. You're just in denial. However, the name crunchie is on the way out, and only lasted one publishing cycle. Here's your chance to coin a new tag. Strike while the iron is hot!

The main thing I notice about Caleb Stegall is that he looks like my brother.

Athos said...

I'll leave it to you, Porthos, to do the pigeonholing. I am quite contented not having a comfortable niche other than our Massketeer Rad Trad Catholic Girardian Conserberalist label.

Athos said...

BTW, Aramis, how about the crossed-pen/swords as part of our header? Unless there are real legal qualms, of course.

Porthos said...

I guess we would contact Opinion Journal at their contact address:

And ask if we can use the graphic that accompanies this editorial:

The graphic is for columns that appear in the commentary of OpinionJournal Federation

Opinion Journal has this copywrite notice at the bottom of the page:
Copyright © Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

Incidentally, I noticed that this artist does very nice little stylized graphics for different editorial categories and sections. House illustrator, I guess. Good work.

Porthos said...

OpinionJournal Federation appears to be a network of guest commentators. This seems to be the regular graphic that appears with op-eds in that category.

Is the discussion here of the use of a graphic from the online companion to the Wall Street Journal a sign of the insidious corruption of the market system, whose malign tendrils creep, yea, even into an honorable thread of distributist crunchiness?

Just asking.

(I wrote "I don't no" instead of "I don't know" above. Sorry. As ewe must Shirley no, that's knot the kind of mistake eye normally make.)

Aramis said...

Actually I like the idea of trying to overlay the swords/pens graphic with a cross/steeple. I'll try to look into that.