Superfluities and outlandish wishes

GO not after thy lusts, but refrain thyself from thine appetites.

If thou givest thy soul the desires that please her, she will make thee a laughingstock to thine enemies that malign thee.

Take not pleasure in much good cheer, neither be tied to the expense thereof.

Sirach 18:30-32.


The dismal “class warfare” familiar in UK politico-religious discourse is becoming part of US discourse too, fanning the flames of envy, and encouraging brother to sit in judgment upon brother.

The Church Fathers’ many excoriating attacks on hoarded wealth and conspicuous consumption are often dragged into service as a reason to let government redistribute wealth by compulsory tax-and-spend, notwithstanding St John Chrysostom’s strong views on the subject.

But perhaps we should apply St Basil the Great’s standards to government in the UK, as well as to wealthy individuals and corporations in the private sector.

St Basil the Great, Bishop of Caesarea (+379)

St Basil the Great, Bishop of Caesarea (+379)

Consider these lines:

IT amazes me, how they can pile on notions of superfluities.

There are countless chariots, some for transporting goods, others for carrying themselves, covered with bronze and silver. A multitude of horses, and such as have pedigrees of well-bred fathers, as among people.

And some of these carry the men about town, dissipating them; others are for hunting; others have been trained for the road. Reins, belts, collars, all of silver, all inlaid with gold. Saddles of genuine purple: they primp up the horses like brides.

A plethora of asses, distinguished according to color, with men to hold the reins, some running before, some following after.

An unlimited number of other servants striving to fulfill every outlandish wish: stewards, treasurers, gardeners, workers skilled in every art hitherto invented, whether for necessary purposes or for enjoyment and luxury. Butchers, bakers, winepourers, huntsmen, sculptors, painters, artisans of every pleasure.

St Basil of Caesarea, Sermon to the Rich.

St Basil’s target is superfluity, waste, conspicuous consumption, and fostering dependency as a sign of power.

What would he have said, to the fact that private sector workers are compelled to pay for the higher salaries, shorter hours, and more generous pensions of their public sector neighbours?

What would he have said to the armies of superfluous public servants of national and local government? What of the plethora of outlandish dream-castles such as wind farms?

What would he have said to taxes and regulations which discourage self-employment and small businesses disproportionately, while vast conglomerates consolidate their power with bail-outs and waivers?

The Charles Koch Foundation has produced this excellent little video, emphasizing that one of the best things we can do for the poor is to foster free economies, i.e. free from government superfluity and self-interest. I can’t speak for others, obviously, but I am a conservative not because free economies prosper the wealthy, but because free economies prosper the poor.


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