Core: noun, the most important part of a thing, the essence; from the Latin cor, meaning heart.

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 Volume 1.17 This View’s Prose June 3, 2002 

    The Great Fault of Modern Democracy    

The only difference between the aristocracy and the democracy is that in the one case the élite forms a hereditary class which tends to monopolise political power and social privilege, while in the other they are the leaders of their fellow citizens, who set the standard of culture for the rest of the community and use their opportunities for the enrichment of the common social life.

This was the secret of the achievements of Greek democracy. The Úlite at Athens had no monopoly of political power, but they possessed a cultural leadership. Their aristocrats, like Pericles, were great democratic leaders, and their rich men were expected to use their wealth to provide for the public amusements of the citizens. And thus the brilliant achievements of Greek art and literature were not the selfish monopoly of the few, but the common possession of the whole body of citizens; as we see, above all, in the case of the Greek drama, perhaps the greatest civic art that has ever existed.

It may be objected that this is not real democracy, and that the Athenians would have done better to abolish their elite and to use their wealth for the increase of the ordinary man’s income. But though it is true that you cannot enjoy the higher goods of culture if you have not enough to eat, it is also true that you cannot get twice as much culture by doubling the amount you eat. The truly rich society is not the one that goes on piling up economic wealth as an end in itself, but the one that uses its wealth as the foundation on which to build a rich and many-sided culture. From this point of view, a country like ancient Greece, in which hardly anybody could afford more than one good meal a day, was richer than the United States at the height of its prosperity.

The great fault of modern democracy — a fault that is common to the capitalist and the socialist — is that it accepts economic wealth as the end of society and the standard of personal happiness. We have made the increase of wealth the one criterion of social improvement, and consequently our aristocracy is an aristocracy of money-makers, and our democratic ideal is mainly an ideal of more money for everyone. But the standard of life is really not an economic but a vital thing; it is a question of how you live rather than how much you live on. Just as a man who buys one’s house does not buy one’s family and friends and interests — all the things that made up the life that was lived in that house — so two men may possess the same money income, and yet have totally different standards of life.

Even if we could guarantee every unemployed person an income of £400 a year, we should not have solved the vital problem of unemployment, which is the problem of social maladjustment. St. Francis of Assisi possessed no income at all, and his material standard of life was below that of a modern tramp. But for all that he was infinitely better off than the modern unemployed, because he had achieved a complete measure of social adjustment. To take a less extreme instance; during the happiest and most productive part of his life, Wordsworth had, I believe, an income of about £70 a year, and he would have been no better off with a million, because he had found the way of life that suited him. If he had lived in a different kind of society, for instance in modern America, he would have needed twelve times that income and he would still have been cramped and unsatisfied.


Christopher Dawson (b. 1889)


from The Modern Dilemma (1932)
quoted in Return to Tradition: A Directive Anthology pp. 310f
ed. Francis Beauchesne Thornton


    The Defense of Liberty    
    What constitutes the bulwark of our own liberty and independence? It is not our frowning battlements, our bristling seacoasts, the guns of our war steamers, or the strength of our gallant and disciplined army. These are not our reliance against a resumption of tyranny in our fair land. All of them may be turned against our liberties, without making us stronger or weaker for the struggle. Our reliance is in the love of liberty which God has planted in our bosoms. Our defense is in the preservation of the spirit which prizes liberty as the heritage of all men, in all lands, everywhere. Destroy this spirit, and you have planted the seeds of despotism around your own doors. Familiarize yourselves with the chains of bondage, and you are preparing your own limbs to wear them. Accustomed to trample on the rights of those around you, you have lost the genius of your own independence, and become the fit subjects of the first cunning tyrant who rises.
    Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865)
    from Speech at Edwardsville, Illinois, September 11, 1858
Collected Works
Volume III p. 95

 Volume 1.17 This View’s Prose June 3, 2002 

The View from the Core, and all original material, © E. L. Core 2002. All rights reserved.

Cor ad cor loquitur J. H. Newman — “Heart speaks to heart”