A Return to the Rule of Honor

January 23, 2014

Hetty Green, was the richest woman in the world during the early 20th Century, but choose not spend her money or give it to charitable organizations. She chose instead to live a little better than the poor, hence she was dumbed the "Witch of Wall Street".

Hetty Green, aka “the Witch of Wall Street,” was an extreme example of the “rule of money.” She was the richest woman in the world during the early 20th century. When Ned, her only son, broke his leg, she tried to have him admitted to a free clinic for the poor. Her miserly procrastination delayed the needed treatment so the leg did not heal right. In the end, the doctors had to amputate it. To save money, she is said to have cooked her daily oatmeal atop a central heating radiator in the back room which a bank allowed her to use for free, in exchange for the “privilege” of hosting her bank accounts.

Throughout history, two sides, two economic outlooks, two lifestyles have long opposed each other as if engaged in constant combat.

On the one side, there is the rule of money with a set of secular values, which include quantity, function, efficiency, and utility. This rule tends to reduce everything to terms of self-interest, matter, and production.

The Heir Apparent by Georg Vogel

The Heir Apparent by Georg Vogel

On the other side is another rule with its own set of values that opposes that of money. We experience some difficulty in naming this opposing rule. Many authors have written about it using words like “moral,” “status,” or “humane” to describe it. They list virtue, tradition, or prestige as its attributes. However, the overwhelming tide of change wrought by our industrial society has so undermined the meaning of these terms as to render difficult the task of finding a word that characterizes this rule entirely.

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We think honor best describes this rule since the word survives less sullied from modernity’s brutal egalitarianism. Honor conveys the definition of an authentic esteem given to all that is excellent in a social atmosphere of respect, affection, and courtesy. It towers above that which is strictly material, functional, and practical.

Grandfather's birthday by Paul Eugène Gorge

Grandfather’s birthday by Paul Eugène Gorge

By using the word honor instead of prestige, for example, we avoid the misunderstanding of those who would confuse our order with vainglory, vanity, or pride. Rather, honor conveys the idea of values that cannot be bought and sold. It spreads the atmosphere of tranquility and temperance that we desire.

 

 

John Horvat, Return to Order: From a Frenzied Economy to an Organic Christian Society—Where We’ve Been, How We Got Here, and Where We Need to Go (York, Penn.: York Press, 2013), 265-6.

 

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