“A&E” refers to Anna Sofia and Elizabeth Botkin, authors of So Much More. I chose the abbreviation to save space and time.
Before I wrap up chapter 9, I’d like to comment on a bit of a strange theme I’m seeing emerging from A&E: their seemingly elitist attitude toward wage earners. I first noticed this because they seem bizarrely fond of the terms “wage slave” and “wage slavery” (which Doug Phillips has also used):
Though men are supposed to be the providers, and fathers and husbands must support their daughters and wives, this does not exempt any women from their duty to work. There is a distinction between the work women are supposed to do in fulfilling the duties God has given them and being a wage slave to strange men in the “workforce.”
Thankfully, A&E have (for once) actually defined “wage slave” in a footnote.
Working for a paycheck is often referred to as wage slavery, because wage earners tend to build lifestyles around their jobs that restrict them from freedom and obedience to God.
Though A&E claim that the term is “often” used, I think there’s a pretty good chance that you probably don’t encounter this term regularly, or if you do, that the definition in your head is not the one A&E present here. In researching this term, Wikipedia seems to have the most complete definition:
Wage slavery refers to a situation where a person’s livelihood depends on wages or a salary, especially when the dependence is total or immediate. It is a pejorative term used to draw an analogy between slavery and wage labor by focusing on similiarities between owning and renting a person.
Or, put more simply, when you encounter the term “wage slavery,” what you will usually see is one of two things: a discussion about people working for very low wages (and probably still living in poverty or near-poverty anyway), or comparisons between the concept of wage labor itself and slavery.
Wage slavery is a large, complex idea with a long history that I don’t have the space (or the expertise, as it intersects with several different economic theories) to fully explore here. It does, however, connect in some recognizable ways to things A&E and other patriocentrists have already said, both in So Much More and other places.
First, just a quick reminder about A&E’s other statements on wage slavery. The first time I encountered their thoughts on this topic was back in my Big Box series here:
You can also help your father by letting him know he has a daughter who wants to give and not take, a daughter who isn’t thing-hungry. The goal of most American families is a cushy, prosperous life. That goal’s often not driven by the father but actually by the demands of the mother and the children. And so some fathers can’t focus on leading their families spiritually because they have to work themselves to death as wage slaves because their wives and children are clamoring for more things, a better car or another car, nicer clothes, a bigger house, a fancier TV, more trips to the movies, you name it.
At the time I found this offensive and pointed out that it looks more like a bad sitcom than thoughtful social commentary. I still believe that, but at the time I wasn’t really aware of the deeper significance here. Comparing this quote to A&E’s definition of wage slavery above, the connection is obvious. In A&E’s world, wage slaves are enslaved not to, say, a factory owner who refuses to pay them anything beyond a bare subsistence living, but to materialism itself, stuff, and their wives and children. (This is bizarrely inverted from the mainstream definition: normally wage slaves are poor, whereas A&E’s “wage slaves” sound like relatively well-off upper middle class suburbanites.)
I was, however, still left with a question after dealing with the above. Do A&E (and other patriocentrists) object to wage labor in and of itself, or only to wage labor that leads to the kind of “thing-hungry” lifestyle they describe? I think we can get an indication of the answer by looking at what certain other patriocentrists think about the question.
Take, for instace, Doug Phillips, whose views I’ve covered before. Phillips believes that “fully functional families” existed in America in Puritan times, and has argued that this family structure was destroyed by the Industrial Revolution, because fathers (and subsequently mothers too) left their homes and went to work in factories. He has also stated, more than once, that fathers should not enter professions that require them to spend too much time away from home. (It is, of course, obvious what Phillips and A&E think about women working outside the home.) Other lesser known patriocentrists (in this case Jonathan Lindvall) have also explicitly advocated for self-employment as a superior, godlier option for Christian men.
When we put all this together, what emerges is a picture I’ve painted before: an extremely home-centered lifestyle that, if implemented on a wide scale, would essentially end what we know as modern, global, technological civilization. Thus, I think it’s fair to conclude there might well more going on here when A&E criticize “wage slavery,” and they might well be looking to take down wage labor itself and replace it with something more like a pre-industrial artisan or farming model. I think it’s also clear, given their unfair stereotyping of American families, that A&E (whether consciously or not) look down on people who can’t realize their idealized “godly” lifestyle.
I must, however, point out that though A&E may be opposed to wage slavery, that does not mean their supposedly idyllic wage labor-free world will not in fact have slavery of some kind. How do I know this? One, because some of the most famous proponents of the idea that wage labor is a form of slavery, were southerners defending slavery in the runup to the Civil War (as they believed northern factory employees were functional slaves and worse off than the actual slaves in the South – see here and here), and there are prominent patriocentrists who are quite enamored of the antebellum South. And two, because Doug Phillips has explicitly advocated for apprenticeship as an educational option for boys.
Last time I brought this up, I pointed out that the historical institution of apprenticeship had (at least in theory) built-in protections for both parties, and that since this legal superstructure no longer exists, Phillips will be sending boys into situations where they have virtually no rights at all. That’s bad enough, but another historical difficulty is that apprenticeship was often a form of indentured servitude, which is not technically slavery, in theory (at least not permanent lifelong slavery). In practice, however, it was often not that different, and an indentured servant’s contract could be bought and sold between different masters, just like a slave’s person. (See here for a Wikipedia overview – note well that indentureship had a kidnapping “industry” just like the slave trade.) Thus, in patriocentrists’ ideal world where apprenticeship would be institutionalized, it’s extremely likely, given the legal structure that would be needed, that indentureship would follow close behind, along with all its accompanying injustices.
Finally, I’d just like to point out that A&E’s focus on wage slavery is a bit ironic, given that they’ve spent so much time in this book fretting about Marx and Marxism. Marx wasn’t actually silent on the topic, as it turns out. Take a look through this excerpted chapter from a larger work, in which Marx extensively quotes an older author (Simon-Nicholas Henri Linguet), whose feelings toward wage labor are even less friendly than Doug Phillips’:
He is free, you say. Ah! That is his misfortune. He is bound to no one; but also no one is bound to him. When he is needed, he is hired at the cheapest price possible. The meager wage that he is promised is hardly equal to the price of his subsistence for the day which he gives in exchange. He is given overlookers to compel him to fulfill his task quickly; he is hard driven; he is goaded on, for fear that a skillfully concealed and only too comprehensible laziness may make him hold back half his strength; for fear that the hope of remaining employed longer on the same task may stay his hands and blunt his tools. The sordid economy that keeps a restless watch over him overwhelms him with reproaches at the slightest respite he seems to allow himself, and claims to have been robbed if he takes a moment’s rest. When he has finished he is dismissed as he was taken on, with the coldest indifference, and without any concern as to whether the twenty or thirty sous that he has just earned for a hard day’s labor will be enough to keep him if he finds no work the following day.
Thus it appears that A&E and other patriocentrists, in their fervor to paint Marx as a Satanic deceiver, have inadvertently echoed something awfully close to his sentiments about wage labor. Odd, since A&E’s father Geoff claims to have once been a devoted Marxist. You’d think he would have noticed something like this.
I’d like to close out this post with a quote and a question. First, the quote. In researching this post, I corresponded with my blogger friend the Autodidact (who is far more well-read on Marxism and Communism than I am), and he made an observation about A&E’s accidental relationship with Marx that I thought was extremely interesting and accurate:
I would also argue that [Marx and A&E] both call for abolition of the existing order and envision a Utopia. Where they differ is in what that Utopia looks like. Marx envisioned the end of personal property, common ownership of the means of production, and “to each according to his needs, from each according to his ability.” … If you dig down into the Patriarchy vision, you also find a Utopia, where strong, manly men work the soil or hand-craft or supervise the workers (wage slaves? or real slaves?) while the women keep house. There will be a call for a return to the past, when things were SO much better. Unlike Marx, though, what you will not find is anything resembling a plan for making life better for the impoverished. The lower classes – particularly minorities – don’t really come into play. Except maybe as beloved servants. It’s pretty clear that this is a very white utopia they envision.
In the end, then, A&E are not all that different from the Marxists they despise so much – they just can’t agree on what paradise should look like, and whether everyone should be included.
Which leads me to my question: since A&E are so enamored of this pre-industrial home economy lifestyle they promote, does the Western Conservatory their family founded in TN practice this lifestyle? (The Western Conservatory’s website is pretty vague about what this “conservatory” actually does, so I’m not sure if this is just a fancy name they gave to some kind of family compound, but let’s assume for the sake of argument that this is a credible institution.)
Let’s just say, I suspect not. Why? Because most of the products sold by the Western Conservatory could not be produced solely from a single family group’s resources on site in TN (even a family group as large as the Botkins). I’m willing to bet the Botkins don’t have their own paper mill (to make the paper their books and maps are printed on), or their own plastic production equipment (to make jewel cases, DVD cases and discs). All these things were probably purchased from a seller, who in all likelihood got them from a manufacturer, whose employees are almost certainly…drum roll please…paid by the hour.
So the next time you hear a patriocentrist freak out about how Christians should take the high road instead of dirtying their hands with evil post-industrial wage work that takes men away from their families, don’t worry about it. I expect their hands are as dirty as anyone else’s.