Totalitarian Economies and the Third Interest

Lately, I’ve been reading an essay by Wendell Berry called “Sex, Economy, Freedom, Community.” Written in 1993, it’s no less relevant today than it was nearly twenty years ago. In the essay, there are a number of things that have caught my attention. And while I have spent the last five days trying to come up with some brilliant way to respond, it’s just not happening. That said, Berry proposes two different ideas that have really got me thinking.

Totalitarian Economies

The first is a small phrase where he talks about the power of “totalitarian economics.” In an era of “too big to fail” and massive bailouts of massive corporations, one must question whether our society (and our politics) is now ruled by a totalitarian economy. If we take the definition of totalitarian as power that “recognizes no limits to its authority and strives to regulate every aspect of public and private life wherever feasible” then I would argue that our national/global economy often exercises totalitarian demands.  And, if we agree that this is to some degree true, than we must confront the differences between the totalitarianism of one man or one political party, and the totalitarianism of  our daily bread

The Third Interest

The second thought that has been intriguing me is this: Berry argues that in all modern discourse, there is usually talk only about the “private” and the “public.” When the Patriot Act passed, for instance, the debate centered over public safety and private freedoms. When a state chooses to bulldoze a neighborhood to put in a freeway, the debate centers over private property and the public good. Berry argues that there is a third concern that almost never makes it into public discourse: the needs, rights, and freedoms of the community. Let me give you an excerpt:

“‘Public’ and ‘community’ then, are different — perhaps radically different — concepts that under certain circumstances are compatible but that, in the present economic and technological monoculture, tend to be at odds. A community, when it is alive and well, is centered on the household — the family place and economy — and the household is centered on marriage. A public, when it is working in the best way — that is, as a political body intent on justice — is centered on the individual. Community and public alike, then, are founded on respect — the one on respect for the family, the other on respect for the individual. Both forms of respect are deeply traditional, and they are not fundamentally incompatible. But they are different, and that difference, once it is instituted in general assumptions, can be the source of much damage and much danger.”

More to come…

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