Of Man And The Machine
Tradition and Modernism in Politics. By A. J. Penty. (Sheed and Ward, ls. 6d.) Reviewed by STANLEY B. JAMES.
With slight modifications the chapters of this posthumous volume have appeared already as articles contributed to the American Review. Nor will they be entirely fresh to readers familiar with the author's previous volurnes published in this country. Nevertheless, I who read several of them in the Review and have for some years followed the development of Penty's thought found them absorbingly interesting. Unlike most republished articles the chapters have a real unity with the consequence that their value is increased by being issued in this form. As a final statement bringing his views up to date the book has value even for those who have studied his previous work.
The unity is not apparent in the chapter headings, which suggest separate. considerations of " Communism," " Fascism," " Money and Machinery," " The Restoration of Property," " the Douglas Scheme " and " the New Deal." But though the ground covered is wide-wider even than these titles indicate-a single theme runs through the whole. It is around the question of machinery, which he describes as " the key problem of modern civilization," that Penty groups these various studies. All is related to that central topic.
* * * * England lost her chance of regulating the machine, according to the author, when the Luddite riots were ruthlessly suppressed without any attempt to meet the objections of the rioters. "If wisdom had prevailed when machinery, was introduced," he says, "it would have been carefully regulated from the start. For though its undoubted advantage would have been recognised, society would not have deliberately closed its eyes to the perils that might follow the liberation of such a power." He then proceeds to give eight rules which, in his opinion, ought to govern the use of the machine.
With the freedom given the machine is bound up the question of unemployment caused by the displacement of labour. Commenting on a farmer who, having nothing else for his men to do, set them to scythe a field of barley instead of using his reaper, he remarks: "7"here is no purpose in saving time or labour unless we know what we are going to do with it." But large-scale production is responsible also for the state of nervous tension to which the race in armaments has reduced the
world. But for the need to find fresh markets the main motive of imperial adventures would not exist. On this point we have an illuminating remark concerning the Abyssinian episode. "Not daring to inter fere drastically with machinery," we read,, "Mussolini has been driven by the force of circumstances to seek a solution on the old capitalist lines of colonial expansion." In addition to the economic troubles which arise from the unregulated' use of meehan ism in industry there are spiritual evils. Among the rules laid down for governing machinery, for instance, is this: " The use of machinery should be restricted where its use conflicts with the claims of personality."
It is one thing however to enact rules of this kind and quite another thing to secure
their effective operation. This difficulty raises another set of problems-concerning
government. Idealists for the most part have been .content either to leave the question of practical application to the individual conscience or else have handed over the whole matter at issue to a State bureaucracy. Penty, for reasons fully set forth, will have neither of these. As one of the initiators in this country of the guild movement his solution is clear and convincing. Guilds have been regarded as the fad of a few antiquated medievalists The present Holy Father's recent reference to them (I wish Penty had lived to read Divinf Redempioris) may have enlightened Catholic opinion on this point but in any case the growth of the Corporate State will have served to show the relevance to modern conditions of the guild idea. The functions exercised by this form of organisation are thus summarised in the present volume: " In addition to upholding a standard of professional conduct, such Regulative Guilds would be concerned to promote a certain measure of economic equality, in the same way that trade unions do to-day. Such Guilds would insist that all who engaged in any industry should conform to their regulations, which would be concerned with such things as the maintenance of fixed and just prices and wages. the regulation of machinery and apprenticeships, the upholding of a standard of quality in production, the prevention of adulteration and bad workmanship, mutual aid, and other matters appertaining to the cc nduct of industry and the personal welfare of its members." * * * *
"Bolshevism," says our author, summing up his conclusions on this question of mechanism, "owes its existence to the unrestricted use of machinery, and it must triumph all over the world if machinery is to continue unrestricted. For. though I am of opinion that the revival of Christianity is necessary to a solution of the problem. a Christianity which does not face mechanisation, and treats machinery as neutral, will be unable to grapple with the problems of the modern world."
Nor is it enough, we are told, for religious authority to declare the Law: the principles laid down must be embodied in appropriate governing bodies capable of making them operative. The Christian view of industry requires the guild as its corollary. To give an adequate account of all the problems mentioned and solutions offered in this little hook is quite impossible. I should like to have referred to its treatment of the Douglas Credit Scheme (at the inception of which Penty was present) and to the chapter on the New Deal. But there is not space. It is sufficient to say that we have here the final conclusions of a thoughtful and constructive mind and that the views expressed, for any occupying the Catholic standpoint, are both profound and convincing. If 1 had to recommend some cheap and easily-read volume that would give the novice in such matters a bird's-eye view of the contemporary situation in social and economic affairs 1 would unhesitatingly name Tradition and Moderniser in Politics.