MacIntyre, Demant, and the Book of Sirach

Here I offer a question about whether MacIntyre’s framework in Secularization and Moral Change (we first reviewed part one, then part two, and finally part three, as well as summarizing the three parts) is entirely consistent with the evidence of previous ages regarding the novelty, within the modern period, of heterogeneous classes generating the loss of a sense of a shared moral community (and, thus, generating the loss of a shared religious community, culturally and sociologically).

I will not presume to answer this question, but I will offer material that will, I hope, allow one to ask it reasonably.

In a previous post on A. V. Demant’s review of Alasdair MacIntyre’s Secularization and Moral Change, I left out a passage where Demant raises a question about MacIntyre that had earlier occurred to me independently. In my case, I didn’t have Demant’s good sense to ask this question after reading MacIntyre; I needed to stumble across a passage from the Book of Sirach while simultaneously reading Secularization and Moral Change.

Demant’s passage:

[…] [O]wing to the compression required by the lectures’ limitations […], the first step in his argument is not so compelling as it deserves to be, for it is of the utmost significance. Why, we are driven to ask, did the class divisions of nineteenth century industrialism confuse moral issues in a way which did not occur in older graded societies with for example barons and serfs in eighteenth century Poland, nobles and yokels in Elizabethan England, or the more classical hierarchical structures? Professor Maclntyre gives us a valuable clue in suggesting that the class consciousness of industrial England brought down iron curtains between vocabularies of the new classes, which were more deeply divisive than social domination and subordination. […]

There is also a passage from the Book of Sirach (written about two centuries before the birth of Jesus) which shows a class-based heterogeneity of moral sensibilities, in a way that can very much be read as indicating separate moral communities.

Our passage is from Sirach 13:

1. Whoever touches pitch gets dirty,
and whoever associates with a proud person becomes like him.
2. Do not lift a weight too heavy for you,
or associate with one mightier and richer than you.
How can the clay pot associate with the iron kettle?
The pot will strike against it and be smashed.
3. A rich person does wrong, and even adds insults;
a poor person suffers wrong, and must add apologies.
4. A rich person will exploit you if you can be of use to him,
but if you are in need he will abandon you.
5. If you own something, he will live with you;
he will drain your resources without a qualm.
6. When he needs you he will deceive you,
and will smile at you and encourage you;
he will speak to you kindly and say, “What do you need?”
7. He will embarrass you with his delicacies,
until he has drained you two or three times,
and finally he will laugh at you.
Should he see you afterwards, he will pass you by
and shake his head at you.

8. Take care not to be led astray
and humiliated when you are enjoying yourself.
9. When an influential person invites you, be reserved,
and he will invite you more insistently.
10. Do not be forward, or you may be rebuffed;
do not stand aloof, or you will be forgotten.
11. Do not try to treat him as an equal,
or trust his lengthy conversations;
for he will test you by prolonged talk,
and while he smiles he will be examining you.
12. Cruel are those who do not keep your secretes;
they will not spare you harm or imprisonment.
13. Be on your guard and very careful,
for you are walking about with your own downfall.

[14. When you hear these things in your sleep, wake up!
During all your life love the Lord, and call on him for your salvation.] [this verse sometimes found among the manuscripts]

15. Every creature loves its like,
and every person the neighbor.
16. All living beings associate with their own kind,
and people stick close to those like themselves.
17. What does a wolf have in common with a lamb?
No more has a sinner with the devout.
18. What peace is there between a hyena and a dog?
And what peace between the rich and the poor?
19. Wild asses in the wilderness are the prey of lions;
likewise the poor are feeding grounds for the rich.
20. Humility is an abomination to the proud;
likewise the poor are an abomination to the rich.

21. When the rich person totters, he is supported by friends,
but when the humble falls, he is pushed away even by friends.
22. If the rich person slips, many come to the rescue;
he speaks unseemly words, but they justify him.
If the humble person slips, they even criticize him;
he talks sense, but is not given a hearing.
23. The rich person speaks and all are silent;
they extol to the clouds what he says.
The poor person speaks and they say, “Who is this fellow?”
And should he stumble, they even push him down.
24. Riches are good if they are free from sin;
poverty is evil only in the opinion of the ungodly.

I invite your judgment, dear reader: do you think this reflects merely the ideology of a purist, or does it seem, in its sociological and psychological descriptions, to show a real difference in moral outlook and moral communities between the wealthy and the poor?

One thought on “MacIntyre, Demant, and the Book of Sirach

  1. Pingback: MacIntyre — Secularization and Moral Change, Some Concluding Thoughts | Into the Clarities

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