Coffee in the Garden, painted by Daniel Ridgway Knight.
Such a concept differs greatly from that of the individualist whose autonomy prevents him from recognizing his natural limits and the weaknesses of his fallen nature. He is a self-made man beholden to no other. This is well expressed in the ravings of Jean-Paul Sartre, who wrote that “no man should have to be dependent on another man.”* Ironically, this same “autonomous” man is totally dependent, not on men, but on the modern interdependent systems into which he is inserted.
The nursery at the orphanage. Painting by Albert Anker
In an organic society, this dependency is limited and complementary. We can return to the imperfect analogy of the living being with interrelated cells, tissues, organs, and systems working together for the common good. Likewise in society, this dependency aids us in our quest for self-sufficiency by providing comfort, aid, and guidance. It makes allowances for individual strengths and weaknesses that can be counterbalanced and complemented in others, thereby creating the sensation of wholeness, security, and well-being for the entire community or social group. We have already cited the feudal and family bonds that serve as examples of how this dependency enriches society yet protects individuality.
Fruit market in Schazel, near the Maria Theresa Bridge, Vienna, 1895 by Alois Schonn
Economically, dependency has a similar effect. This harmonic interplay of self-sufficiency with dependency creates an economy where skills are complementary rather than set in competition. In fact, such dependency often involves great sacrifice, especially in those cases where parties must constantly adjust to human weaknesses. We might cite as an extreme example the dependency of those who are mentally impaired. Those who care for them must practice great patience and virtue and temper their own desires. Such virtue benefits all society and introduces a human element in social and economic relationships. Such an attitude is contrary to the mechanistic vision of society, where any defects or dependencies are judged inefficient and efforts are made to eliminate them at all costs.
“Such an attitude is contrary to the mechanistic vision of society, where any defects or dependencies are judged inefficient and efforts are made to eliminate them at all costs.” Photo of mentally handicapped children and adults in Nazi Germany being loaded on to a bus that would take them to their deaths in a gas chamber.
The ability to deal with dependencies involves a love of neighbor as self that requires religious fervor. When this fervor decays in the family and community, mutual dependency is replaced by rivalries which lead to friction and later hatred. This finds economic expression in cutthroat competition and a desire to command that could be seen in the rival Italian Renaissance cities and later in the practice of frenetic intemperance.
* Fernand Braudel, The Wheels of Commerce. Translated by Siân Reynolds. Vol. 2 of Civilization and Capitalism 15th-18th Century (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992), 514.
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), 285-7.