Is it not a fact that day after day and with immense energy and equally immense infatuation we are busy creating a material environment which suffocates the soul of man and causes psychical lesions of an immeasurable and incurable kind? And is it not a fact that we do this in the name of bare material utility and in the service of measurable economic gain, without even noticing that we are causing enormous damage to higher things, damage which may well have a decisive effect on our own lives? There is a downright uncanny power in our modern industrial, urban, and mass civilization which destroys all beauty, dignity, harmony, and poetry in its path, so much so that it has justly been called “the ugly civilization.” The modern world of concrete, gasoline, and advertising is peculiarly apt to deprive ourselves of certain indispensable vitamins—Burke’s unbought graces of life again—and it does so in the name of a technological and social rationalism which has no use for anything that just happens by itself or that is not planned, the grows wild in picturesque confusion, and whose effects defy measurement….

This development, with its contempt of nature and history like, leads to impoverishment of the soul because it acts upon us through all the doors of perception. Not only the visual image assails us, but so does its acoustic echo: the noise which rises from modern mass society and grows to real torture in the din of jet aircraft and helicopters. It is not that mere absence of sound is the ideal. There’s also a silence of nothingness, the hush of death, stillness in places where we miss the singing of the farm aids, the village band on the green, the warbling of the nightingale, the fanfares from the church tower, the sound of the post horn, the accordion at dusk under the lime tree, the thump of the threshing flail, the crow of the cock….

One final word to those whose retort to everything we have said in this chapter is the reproach of romanticism. It certainly is romantic, if by that term we understand resistance to the destruction of dignity and poetry and the “unbought graces of life.” If this is romanticism, we profess it unreservedly and proudly, and we will not allow ourselves to be intimidated or abashed by these would-be masterminds. We do not want to set the clock back; we want to set it right.

A Humane Economy: The Social Framework of the Free Market

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