Book Review: Return to Order

Part of the Restoration is understanding where we came from.  Only then can we start to put together commonsense solutions for how to go forward.  Few books in today's Catholic publishing world do this better than John Horvat II's Return to Order: From a Frenzied Economy to an Organic Christian Society.

I'm a bit embarrassed to say that I only read this book recently, even though it has been in print since 2013.  The impetus?  I recently traveled to the United States to visit my parents and there were two books they had bought and sent me since my last US visit and this was one of them.  I was determined to share my thoughts on these gifts with them the next time I visited (which was last month).

I have to say that I read the first 200 pages of the book without stopping.  The writing is clean, spare, and simple, yet extensively footnoted.  I only stopped reading to deplane and continue my journey.

While the book is a look at the American economy specifically, given the outsized influence America has on the world, it is useful for citizens of any nation to read.

Below are a few lines from the book that I wished to share.

Regarding the marketplace and frenetic intemperance

"Where once there was a wide variety of unique and affordable products suited to the tastes of a given market, there are now thousands of outlets offering strikingly similar arrays of global products detached from any locality." p. 41

"As a culture, we are enamored of freedom, self-determination, and variety, and we are reluctant to give up any of our options." quoting Barry Schwartz, p. 42

"The function of advertising, notes sociologist Robert Lane, 'is to increase people's dissatisfaction with any current state of affairs, to create wants, and to exploit the dissatisfactions of the present.  Advertising must use dissatisfaction to achieve its purpose.'" p. 90

This is something beautifully illustrated, by the way, in the original video from the people at The Story of Stuff.

"We have built a market economy on the premise of a colossal production that can never satisfy us.  Purely material goods will always frustrate us since they cannot satisfy the demands of our spiritual nature; they cannot satisfy our longings for eternal goods, which ultimately find their plenitude in God himself." p. 320

"Our core denunciation is aimed at a reckless spirit of frenetic intemperance, which is constantly throwing our economy out of balance by seeking to be rid of restraints and gratify disordered passions." p. 339

On leisure, time, and work

"Leisure is not 'freedom from work,' but as Lewis Mumford writes, it is 'freedom within work; and along with that, time to converse, to ruminate, to contemplate the meaning of life." p. 67

"Within this hurried pace of life, time itself loses meaning.  Inside our rushed schedules, we experience the double sensation of having no time to do anything and doing nothing with our time." p. 68

"Let us remember in particular that mass unemployment, definitely unconnected with any particular personal shortcomings of the unemployed, was unknown to the Middle Ages except as a consequence of social catastrophes such as devastation by wars, feuds, and plagues." quoting Joseph Schumpeter, p. 130

"The medieval calendar, for example, was filled with holy days and seasonal work schedules that allowed ample time - often as much as half the year - for leisure, celebration, and worship that foster the whole development of man." p. 183

"...the craftsman of the time found in his work a satisfaction and a sense of dignity which are, alas, foreign to the alienating assembly lines of the modern industrial complex." p. 292

"Medieval man looked for ways to offer up his sacrifices in the economic dealings of every day." p. 332

On the modern denial of God

"It is impossible to be certain of the existence of God and, consequently, that man should act in the temporal realm as if God did not exist; in other words, he should act like a person who has dethroned God." p. 95

On Church and State

"The Church has as Her immediate and specific purpose the promotion of the supernatural life and the salvation of souls, and, as a secondary and indirect goal, to help the common good of temporal society.  And the State has as its specific and immediate end the promotion of the common good and, indirectly and secondarily, to help men to practice virtue and thus attain eternal happiness." p. 213-214

"Thus, the Church cannot retreat into an abstract and empty corner of society, a mere psychological support for weak souls with no connection to our industrialized and globalized world." p. 215

"Thus, the needy receive alms without shame.  The craftsman receives the apprentice like a family member.  And the king solicits advice from his council with earnest attention.  All seek God's grace with humble yet loving supplication." p 287

On Law and Order

"...the one true law was constantly being "rediscovered," clarified, and purified against injustice, obscurity, misunderstanding, and forgetfulness.  In its unity, medieval law progressed by neither revolution nor evolution, but by constant regeneration." p. 232

"No legal understanding was more widespread in the medieval period than that which declared the ruler to be under the law." quoting Robert Nisbet p. 233

On Solutions

"We need a future that builds upon our rich Christian past.  Our love of country calls upon us to be true to our nation and explore with urgency solutions that will preserve our identity, unity, and history." p. 112

"Isolated man accomplishes very little by himself.  It is upon man in association with others that a civilization is built." p. 179

"We must rise up against the culture that has led us to ruin; we must leave behind and disengage ourselves from the rule of money, both as individuals and as a nation.  With humble and contrite hearts, we can then search out the object of our longings." p. 347

On the Point of this Life

"Looking at things symbolically, his (medieval man's) goal became not only arranging his material well-being but elaborating a marvelous culture, art, or civilization based on the consideration of these perfections.  The result was a life with a certain happiness on this earth, a foretaste of eternal happiness in Heaven." p. 319

This is also a book that takes advantage of high quality pictures and art to further its case.  For our readers in the United States, you can take advantage of the free softcover offer, available here.  For our international readers, should you be interested in obtaining a copy, let us know and if we get enough interest we will add it to our bookstore so that you can perhaps add it to some other titles to make the international shipping worthwhile.

It's never difficult to promote the classics of our Catholic literature, but this is why I am perhaps so excited to see so much thoughtful writing in something published in 2013.  This book is well worth your time and will stimulate you to look even more deeply at our Catholic past, so we can rebuild our Catholic future.

Stephen Heiner

Stephen lives in Paris, France. He founded True Restoration in 2006.

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