Asked about the advisability of eating meat at Christmas if it fell on a Friday, Saint Francis of Assisi reportedly replied:
You are sinning, Brother, by calling the day the Child is born to us a day of fasting. I wish even the walls would eat meat on such a day, and if they can’t, they should be smeared with meat on the outside.
Francis, of course, was known for his austere lifestyle, but he rightly concluded that it was a terrible idea to give up the basic material pleasures of life on a day like Christmas.
Contra Francis, however, there is no doubt that many now believe that the pleasures we enjoy at Christmas, somewhere along the line, have gotten out of hand. So it became cliche to deplore the “commercialization” of Christmas.
This review permeates popular culture, and anyone who’s ever seen “A Charlie Brown Christmas” has heard the message: Christmas is spoiled by too much consumption, and all you really need at Christmas is a little tree and trees. friends. It is only by giving up material luxury, we are told, that we can appreciate “the true meaning of Christmas.”
The origins of these concerns date back at least to the end of the 19th century, when mass production for middle and working class households accelerated. For the first time, in Europe and North America, an ordinary person could hope to take time off from work, buy extra toys and food, and enjoy the bounty and “good life” that aristocrats had long enjoyed. taken for granted.
However, this development seemed to trouble the intellectuals and the upper classes, who looked with disdain on the crude displays of holiday cheer enjoyed by ordinary workers. This thinking was applied with particular enthusiasm to the Christmas period, but it was part of a general distrust of markets expressed by old aristocrats and custodians of culture, who preferred a world of “refined” tastes. unaffected by the new consumer culture where ordinary people were gaining both economic and political power. Although old grumblers and Puritans could find no standard for how “too much” vacation opulence was, it was believed that most people couldn’t handle this new abundance.
From the start in England, for example, aristocrats feared that ordinary people lacked the moral constitution to handle any huge increase in access to “luxury goods.” As historian Robert Kelley describes:
When some of [the laboring poor] in the eighteenth century began to drink tea and enjoy a few other simple amenities such as wheat bread and candles, there was a great outcry over the moral degradation of the working classes, and taxes were immediately imposed on these new consumer goods.1
In America, which lacked an ancient aristocracy, the situation was different, but the same impulse was present. Nostalgic agrarians opposed the increase in consumer goods from cities. Republican simplicity demanded the rejection of luxury and excess. More broadly, even the let it go Jacksonians, laudable less enthusiastic about taxation than the British aristocrats, were wary of the proliferation of consumer goods. Even in America, “[c]consumer capitalism and civic virtue were not commonly associated with each other [the] early 19th century. “2
But any judgment of luxury or abundance in this context is quite arbitrary, and so is any attempt to place limits on these goods and services.
Saint Francis, for his part, did not seem to fear excessive indulgence, at least in terms of food. But maybe it was because in Francis’s day there were few opportunities to consume large amounts of anything. Although the thirteenth century was a period in which the economic situation of Europe improved by far and above what had been the case a few centuries earlier, almost every way of life of Europeans were still barely above subsistence levels. A poor harvest can still lead to hunger or even famine.
Things even turned around in the 14th century when the first half of the century brought widespread famine across much of Europe, with crop yields dropping 40 percent or more in some places thanks to the global cooling. The middle of the century brought the Black Death.
The problem was not abundance, but deprivation.
The blessings of “consumer capitalism”
This tenuous hold over the pleasures and basic necessities of life improved for most human beings in Europe as industrialization developed. Thanks to the boom in world trade, the expansion of a European financial system and the construction of mills and factories, European standards of living – especially in the more industrialized areas of the north-west of the ‘Europe – reached levels never seen before.
Nothing perhaps illustrates the arbitrary nature of judgments about “luxury” and “consumerism” better than economic progress over time. As Ludwig von Mises pointed out, the use of a fork was once seen as a form of opulence. But forks are not a luxury today. Likewise, even the most moralistic Christmas keeper today wouldn’t claim that artificial lighting and wheat bread are some kind of indulgence. Americans who once criticized modest purchases of “unnecessary” toys have now moved on to much larger and more expensive targets. Faced with the arguments against 18th century “luxury”, many modern working class people are likely to conclude today, “If the purchase of light bulbs and wheat bread is in danger of morally declining, I will try my best. luck.
This state of relative abundance is due to the so-called “consumer economy” itself, which is nothing more than a process that provides what the great mass of the population needs and wants. People in the industrialized world no longer have to fear that a poor harvest will lead to famine or that a flood will lead to permanent poverty. Industrialization and the proliferation of markets are accompanied by “luxury”. But what exactly constitutes luxury remains quite relative.
Nonetheless, it is no coincidence that modern concerns about an “excessive” amount of goods and services often lead to a demand for taxes, regulations, central planning and other efforts to simply force us all back. to what is “necessary”. The “Green New Deal” and the “Great Reset” are just two examples. With all this “consumerist” luxury, the story goes, we have ruined the environment, our culture and even our own families and lives.
Like the aristocrats of old, today’s ruling class believes they are the only ones who can control access to the fruits of human industry. Otherwise, ordinary people could misuse these fruits or for politically unacceptable purposes. But you can rest assured that the ruling class will take a healthy slice of the pie in return for its “services”. The impulse to control all of this is clearly old. Christmas simply offers the elites and their friends another opportunity to berate the public for its “excess”.
But if today’s intellectuals and aristocrats are so preoccupied with the impact of consumer goods on virtue – defined today perhaps as the level of “vigil” and penchant for social democracy – that they teach by example. Let the elite of New York and Washington forgo chic vacations, private jets, luxury cars, and second (and third) homes. Let intellectuals give their university salaries to others.
Until then you will find me wrapping Christmas presents.
#big #reset #real #meaning #Christmas #Dateway