Meet The Beadles

Looking back on my recent account of the response to poverty found in the Kingdom of Christania, it occurs to me that I may have left the impression that the Charity Centers which I described represent that land’s first line of response to certain social ills. This is, in fact, not the case, and in fairness to the people of that distant and obscure nation, I believe that it is necessary to introduce my readership to an institution in Christanian society which, while it is a part of our own distant heritage as well, has long been forgotten here by all but the most serious students of history and literature. This is the office of beadle; one which permeates Christanian civil society.

What exactly a beadle is and what role they fill is a bit difficult to explain to those not familiar with Christania, because not only have beadles played no role in western societies for at least a century, but the Christanian take on them is a unique one, a bit different from their old English counterparts. It might be best to describe them as something between a deacon, a mafia fixer, and a ward heeler in the days of Tammany Hall. Their office is sponsored, and given its authority, jointly by the church and the crown, but they are neither clergy nor police officers. The beadle may be a man or a woman, and is typically (though not always) a retired elder who, as the saying goes, has been “a pillar of their community” for many years. They will have deep roots in these communities, will understand how things work there, and will know everyone and everyone’s aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, cousins, parents, and friends. These connections, as much as their commission from church and state, are what grant them the resources to help those who have fallen into trouble. Their role is as advocate, as problem-solver, as advisor and counselor, as negotiator, as stern lecturer, as mother or father figure, as friend to those in need, and as shoulder to cry on for their communities. They are, in everyplace they serve, whether small towns or neighborhoods in large cities, someone who people can turn to when they need help with any of the innumerable problems of life. The church and the crown see beadles as good investments because their purpose is to deal with social problems before they reach a point at which more drastic steps may be necessary and other civil or religious institutions (such as Charity Centers or even the police) have to become involved, and to handle them as locally as possible, which is in keeping with the Christanian view that most problems are best handled by local institutions rather than by large bureaucracies in a distant capital city.

Indeed, dealing with problems in their communities – of every conceivable sort – are what beadles do incessantly. They are who you go to if you’ve lost a job and are running out of money; they will know every business owner in the community, and (so long as you are not a drunk, a layabout, or an embezzler, for they have responsibilities to those businessmen as well), will make sure it isn’t long at all before you get an offer of work. They are who you go to if your teenage son or daughter did something stupid and got themselves arrested; they will know every cop, every prosecutor, and every judge, and a word from them along the lines of “He’s a good kid, he just made a mistake” can turn what would have been a year in prison into a few months of probation and some community service (though it can also do the opposite; the beadles know who the real troublemakers in their communities are, and are not hesitant to see them dealt with). They are who you go to if you’ve gotten behind on your car payments and the bank is threatening repossession. They are who you go to if you suspect, but have no proof that the police could act on, that your neighbor is beating his wife. They are who two parties, whether individuals or businesses, turn to when they have a dispute so that it can be arbitrated and a compromise reached without having to resort to lawsuits. They are who a wife turns to in desperation about her husband’s drinking problem. They are who a single father (rare, but not unknown in Christania) turns to if he doesn’t know what to say to his adolescent daughter about getting her first period. They are who a bright 18-year-old talks to if they’ve just become an adult and have no idea what to do with their lives. They are there for these and a thousand other things, large and small, that may present themselves as problems in the lives of people in every community all across Christania.

This is not to say that the beadles always tell people what they want to hear. The first responsibility of a beadle is to their community as a whole, not to any particular individual in it. This, for example, is why those individuals who the beadle knows are, due to some personal failing, not capable of being a worthwhile employee will not be found a job, but will either be placed with some relatives to deal with or simply shipped off to a Charity Center. In addition, those whose antisocial actions, or those of their children, have (and here we are not speaking of the likes of reclusiveness or eccentricity, but of people who are making public nuisances of themselves) become a blight on their community can expect a knock on the door from their local beadle, and the “friendly advice” they offer is best taken by those who would not like the next knock on their door to come from a policeman. Here, it should be emphasized that although beadles are not police officers themselves, they have wide latitude and discretion when it comes to when they believe that the police should become involved in a problem in their community. Due to the nature of their work, beadles encounter violations of the law constantly, which range from minor to extremely serious. Of course, beadles are sworn to act in accordance with Christian morals and His Majesty’s laws, and of course, any major examples of lawbreaking are reported to law enforcement immediately. However, when it comes to minor infractions, beadles are expected to make judgments about what can have a blind eye turned to it, what can be handled with an apology and some restitution, and what calls for the law to get involved. A good example is found in the default attitude of beadles (and Christanians in general) to homosexuality; it is technically illegal in the Kingdom, but that is mostly a hedge against politicized homosexuals attempting to bring down the faith of the polis and upend the laws and traditions of the nation in order to suit their own purposes. Beadles are selected for the job because they know their communities and are no fools; thus they know full well whether someone in that community is a homosexual. However, it is unspoken, yet ironclad policy among beadles that as long as homosexuals use discretion and go quietly about their business, the beadles will use their own discretion to see to it that they are left alone. Should they be discovered through misfortune, any beadle will generally ensure that the matter is swept under the carpet or settled with some nominal punishment like a small fine. It is only if they become disruptive to their communities that a beadle would ever consider invoking the law in defense of their culture.

Here too, it must be emphasized that just as beadles are not police officers, neither are they Inquisitors. While Christian morality should and must infuse everything they do, it is not their job to go on moral crusades aimed at the eradication of vice. Moreover, Christanians are people who don’t suffer gossips or busybodies easily, so a great deal of effort is put into ensuring that beadles become neither of these things. With the exception of reporting activity that is criminal, disruptive to society, or endangers public safety, beadles are expected to not ever go where they have not been invited, do what they have not been asked to do, or discuss what they have seen or heard with any outside party without the permission of those involved. This means that being a beadle requires a mix of discretion and judgment; a sense of Christian justice tempered by Christian mercy, along with a healthy dose of realism about the ways of the world and about human nature. All of this is necessary if beadles are to continue to fulfill their intended purpose in Christanian society. The Christanians are keenly aware that beadle is the sort of post that could, in the wrong hands, become a swamp of abuse and corruption, turning the beadles themselves from beloved advocates and helpers of the people into a group of informants and enforcers to be feared and avoided. This has led to a system of safeguards placed upon the position designed to uphold its reputation and keep those who practice it honest. These are designed so as to reflect the Christanian belief that essentially all problems are best handled first through the application of tradition, then by social pressure, and finally, as a last resort, via the law. Beadles work closely with both church and civil authorities, and, as with virtually every other profession in Christania, there is a Beadles’ Guild. All of these work with individual beadles to help and support them in what is a very difficult and trying job. These authorities understand that simply due to the nature of the job (it is impossible to please everybody, especially in difficult situations, and beadles are only human and do sometimes make wrong judgments) all beadles will have complaints made against them from time to time. However, real concerns about consistent bad judgment, or, worse, abuse of power are taken very seriously, and although the need to do so is rare, there is no hesitation at all to see that beadles who have overstepped their bounds and lost the trust of their communities do not stay long in their positions.

But again, the need for these measures is exceedingly rare, as the nature of the position of beadle, and the process by which they are chosen, tends to select for those who are both wise and who are in it for the right reasons. When an opening for beadle becomes available, the local civil and religious authorities will meet (typically it will be the mayor and priest of a small town, but can also be an alderman and parish priest in a city district) and, in cooperation with the Beadles’ Guild, nominate candidates from among the prominent citizenry. Wealth is not considered when making nominations; instead, good character and a long-established history of civic involvement are the most important factors in putting someone into consideration. Another safeguard against ending up with the wrong sort of person is that nobody will ever get rich by being a beadle. The job is not intended as a sinecure for careerists; a modest stipend is provided through the guild, funded by the crown and the church, but it is really meant as a supplement for a person who already draws a pension, and would not be enough by itself to support more than a life of true Christian poverty in a very small town. In addition, beadles generally leave the position after being in it somewhere between ten and twenty years (though there is no fixed term for them and they may, except in the very rare cases in which one may be removed for corruption or incompetence, stay in it as long as they like), as the stress it brings does become wearisome after a while. Because one of the most important functions of a beadle is as an intermediary between common people and the the institutions that hold authority over them, no active clergyman or government employee will be considered for the position, although those who once held such posts but have been retired a few years may be nominated. Elders are preferred, but a beadle may be any age, retired or still working, and of either gender (some localities maintain both a male and a female beadle on the belief that the problems that men and women face are so different that each needs their own dedicated beadle to help with them). With rare exceptions, male beadles must have satisfied their duty to the national militia (which is similar to the Swiss system), and with no exceptions, female beadles must have raised children of their own. It is emphasized to all, and remembered by all, that to be nominated to be a beadle is an honor, not a right. Those nominated will be asked to come for a series of interviews (many who are nominated decline because they do not want the responsibilities involved, and there is no shame in doing so), references will be gathered, backgrounds will be checked, and finally a selection made.

Once a beadle is selected, they will be made ready for the job through a few months of study with the guild (and, if possible, with the outgoing beadle whom they will be replacing). As they shoulder their new responsibilities, church authorities, civil authorities, and the guild will strive to provide them with whatever resources they may need – material, psychological, or otherwise. Of these, the guild is especially critical; just as the beadles are always there for their communities, the guild and the brotherhood and sisterhood of fellow beadles it represents will always in turn be there for them. While it will sometimes call beadles who have made mistakes in for a stern talking-to or other disciplinary measures, the guild’s primary purpose is to be there as a support system and source of advice in what is one of the most difficult, but also necessary, roles in Christanian society.

The Christanians strongly believe that the beadle system, with its close connection to the communities it serves, produces results that are far superior to those of the faceless bureaucrats found in the welfare states of the West. If nothing else, giving a formal imprimatur to these personal, local systems of support increases the affection and loyalty that the people feel toward their civil authorities by ensuring that it isn’t the case that the only official authority figures the people ever deal with are those who either want money from them or who might drag them away in handcuffs. In the West, “I’m from the government and I’m here to help” is an ironic joke; due largely to the effort of the beadles, there is no such joke in Christania. Sending the beadles to help them – to be their advocates and advisors – is living proof to Christanians that their king and their bishop care about them and want to help them as they live their everyday lives. That the Christanians feel this way, despite the general lack of sociology degrees from Ivy League universities among Christanian beadles, may be seen as a sign of backwardness in many places that style themselves advanced and that take pride in their systems being run and staffed by “credentialed experts”. And yet, as with their approach to poverty, some of the less enlightened among us may find things to admire in the Christanian approach to the problems of life.

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From time to time, we may return in this space to the topic of the Kingdom of Christania, in order to explore the question of what the political and social policies of a perfectly Christian land might look like. Hopefully this will be of interest, so please keep reading!

Down And Out In Christania

Today, let us board the Ship of Imagination and take a journey to the Kingdom of Christania. A small nation in a far-off corner of the world, Christania is a perfectly Christian land: its inhabitants, including its leaders, are entirely believing, churchgoing Christians who, after an honest day’s labor (except on Sunday, of course), come home, sit by the fire, and read the Holy Bible with their families (with a little Tolkien, Chesterton, or Lewis thrown in there for fun every so often). The spirit of the Savior is strong in the hearts of the people of Christiania, and everything they do in every aspect of their lives, both public and private, from the King and Queen to the humblest plowman, flows from their faith.

That doesn’t mean that there aren’t any problems in Christania, however. As Jesus reminds us in Matthew 26:11, the poor will always be with us, and indeed the poor are there in Christania, as well. Being the sort of people they are, the Christanians have established in their country a response to poverty that they have striven to ensure is perfectly Christian and fulfills every obligation that their religion places upon them in dealing with the needs of the poor. Here we must be perfectly clear: the Christanians are a smart, sensible people who know the Bible better than they know their own names and who don’t suffer charlatans easily, and are quick to point out that when they say that their approach is based on their faith, they mean that it is based on Christian scripture, Christian custom, and Christian philosophy – what it is decidedly not based on is any desire to make those things conform to the postmodern theories of Marxists*, socialists, welfare-staters, liberals, social justice warriors, equality fetishists, sociology majors, utopian dreamers, or non-Christians (though they bear no hatred for people with other religious views, Christanians are notorious for their bluntness in making clear that they are not interested in the opinions of non-Christians on the subject of how Christians ought to conduct themselves in the practice of their faith).

In word and deed, the Christanian approach to poverty is 100% based in actual Christian teaching, and thus is unique in the world and worth a bit of study.

The first thing we must look at if we are to understand the Christanians’ approach to poverty is their definition of what exactly poverty is. For this, we turn to the works of Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn (whose works every Christanian schoolchild has read, in the original German, by the second year of middle school). On the subject of poverty, Kuehnelt-Leddihn wrote:

Whoever lives in real abundance has a Christian duty to assist those living in wretchedness. Before we proceed, however, let us affirm that the notion of misery is different from that of poverty. Péguy has already drawn the distinction between “pauvreté” and “misère”. To live in misery means to suffer genuine physical privation: to know cold and hunger, to have no proper dwelling, to be dressed in rags, to be unable to secure medical attention. The poor, by contrast, have the necessities of life, but scarcely any more. They can borrow books, no doubt, but cannot buy them; they can hear music on the radio, but cannot afford a ticket to a concert; they cannot indulge in little extras of food and drink, but should, by self-discipline, be able to save a little. The poor have, therefore, the normal material preconditions for happiness — unless plagued by acquisitiveness or even envy, which has become a political force in the same measure as people have lost their faith.

The Christanians (many of whom believe, as Chaucer did, that a state of humble pauvreté is what is most conducive to living a genuinely Christian life) take the view that they have every obligation to relieve the misère of their fellow man, but none to relieve their pauvreté. They never allow themselves to lose sight of the fact that the Corporal Acts of Mercy laid out by Christ’s teachings are: to feed the hungry, to give water to the thirsty, to clothe the naked, to shelter the homeless, to care for the sick, to visit the imprisoned, and to bury the dead. Nowhere in any of this is there the slightest mention of things like free cell phones or college tuition, nor of subsidies to be an artist or to live in expensive parts of big urban centers. They are an industrious people who have built a developed nation out of nothing; they understand that the Christian rules of charity were developed for – and in – a time and place that any modern person would consider dirt poor; a time when even kings sweltered when it was hot, shivered when it was cold, and agonized when they had a toothache, and when “clothe the naked” had to be included in the list because society had a nontrivial problem with people who literally walked around naked because they couldn’t afford a scrap of cloth to cover their private parts. The way the Christanians see it, while there may be pauvreté in developed nations in the present day, there is very little genuine misère, and particularly there is virtually none that is not to some degree self-inflicted.

This brings us to the other thing that must be understood, which is how seriously the Christanians take II Thessalonians 3:10. In this passage, St. Paul writes: “For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him also not eat”. The Christanians draw a hard line between those who can not work – the aged widow, the young orphan, the sick and disabled, the mentally ill – and those who will not work. For the former, there is great sympathy and charity; for the latter, there is none. Those whose inability to work can be traced to their own poor decisions in life – drunkards, addicts, those who are morbidly obese or otherwise unhealthy by choice – are seen as something in between; it is understood that such people should be cared for, but that the care they are given must lead them toward repentance, reform, and renewal of their lives – physically, mentally, spiritually, and morally. Those who are not willing to take that journey will find themselves placed in the category of those who are not willing to work, and (as we shall see), their pleas for assistance will avail them little.

In short, the Christanians see themselves as having the obligation to provide basic survival necessities for those who, for some reason beyond their control, are incapable of working to earn them on their own, and no obligation to provide anything beyond that to anyone, most especially to idlers and layabouts.

That tells us all we need to know about their attitude toward poverty, but how does that manifest itself in practice? Let us turn to a detailed examination of the system that His Majesty the King of Christania and His Excellency the Bishop of Christania have put in place in order to deal with the problem of poverty in their land. While it may seem a bit spartan by the standards of a Western welfare state, it must be emphasized that great pains have been taken to ensure that it meets or exceeds every requirement and obligation placed upon it by scripture and by Christian tradition.

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The poor of Christania find their way to Charity Centers (hereafter referred to as CC’s) through a few different paths. Some seek them out themselves, which is easily enough done at any outpost of the government, from police stations to post offices, all of which can arrange a referral for the needy person. Others are sent there after defaulting on debts (which is rather rare, as Christania has strict anti-usury laws) or for non-payment of bills (they are free to refuse to go, but if they do, they remain liable for the money they owe). Many end up there after being picked up by the police for vagrancy or panhandling. No matter how they may have ended up into the system, after a day or two in a temporary shelter, they are put on a bus headed out into the countryside, where all CC’s are located.

It is worth remarking before we proceed any further that the name “Charity Center” was very carefully chosen. It is meant to emphasize to those who go there that what they are experiencing is, in fact, charity – provided to them by His Majesty and His Excellency, who jointly administer the CC system, and ultimately by the taxpayers and parishioners of the kingdom, whose taxes and contributions at the collection plate are what are paying for the CC’s to exist. It is not an entitlement which they may demand (the Christanians are notoriously impatient with those who are possessed of the delusion that the universe owes them anything at all); it is a gift which they are expected to receive with humility. The point of this is twofold: to keep those receiving this charity realistic about their situation (and therefore eager to get out of it), as well as to prevent them from coming to resent those who have come to their aid via the mistaken belief that the list of things they are entitled to can and should be expanded indefinitely and that those in positions of power who do not provide them with every last thing on that list are somehow doing them wrong. The Christanians strongly believe that to do otherwise would be to undermine social harmony and to give the poor illusions which, in their situation, they cannot really afford to indulge.

As for the CC’s themselves, they are scattered around rural areas, as far from any towns as they can be reasonably be situated. One can recognize them from a distance; the multiple clusters of whitewashed dormitories standing in the midst of farm fields are unmistakable (some of these dormitories were, in fact, once army barracks, but it hardly matters which, as even the ones that weren’t have been constructed to the same plan). Most CC’s are surrounded by fences, but these are almost invariably low post-and-wire affairs designed to keep animals on the right side of them; CC’s are neither prisons nor are they slave plantations, and it is emphasized to those entering them that nobody there is either a prisoner or slave. The dormitories (with some exceptions, such as those designed for the disabled or elderly, or those with children) are filled with basic, but perfectly comfortable double bunk beds, with a locker for each inhabitant located next to them. Toilets and showers are communal, though separated into stalls for the sake of Christian modesty, and located at the end of each dormitory building. Heat is provided by wood stoves, and cooling by ceiling fans (as Christania has a temperate climate similar to Ireland or the Pacific Northwest, these are felt to be perfectly sufficient). In addition to the dormitories, each cluster typically includes a mess hall, an administration building with staff quarters, a chapel, an infirmary, and an equipment shed. Clusters dedicated to female residents (male and female dormitories are, of course, kept strictly separate; male children under twelve may stay with their mothers, while older ones are assigned to a male dormitory) will also normally have a child care center in their midst.

On the rare occasion that a foreigner (no Christanian would ever say any such thing themselves) remarks that these arrangements suffer from a lack of amenities, they may count on being told that not only do they meet Biblical standards, but are at least as comfortable – if not more so – than those in which recruits in Christania’s army live. And if the conditions on offer are good enough for the realm’s honored defenders, then they should be good enough for anyone.

An incoming resident can, on their first day, count on a thorough medical examination provided by the medical staff at the CC. Here, multiple findings are made regarding their health. One, of course, is overall condition. If serious problems are found, they may be sent to a hospital for treatment, and if it turns out that they require medication, a prescription will be issued and an order placed for it. The signs of drug or alcohol addiction are checked for, and if found, a treatment regimen is arranged for them. Though virtually everyone who arrives at a CC does so with some share of emotional issues, the seriously mentally ill are also identified, and sent on to facilities where the staff is trained to provide them with the care they need. Finally, disability status is checked for; the doctors at CC’s keep their own counsel about who is and is not genuinely disabled (and just how disabled they actually may be), and are very, very good at telling the difference between them and work-shy bellyachers who simply don’t want to get their hands dirty. Those who are afflicted with a self-induced medical condition that makes them unable to do any useful work (i.e. the morbidly obese or the weak and underweight “basement-dweller” type) are sent to fitness training, which is a much gentler iteration of that given in basic training to army recruits who need a bit more work to come up to standards.

New residents then attend an orientation, following which they are offered a sturdy, comfortable set of work clothes to replace whatever they showed up wearing (which is, understandably, often in terrible shape and reeks horribly). Though wearing these around the CC is not technically mandatory (residents may work in other clothes so long as they are practical for the task at hand), it is highly recommended and most people do end up in them (after, perhaps, a few days’ worth of resistance). They are then assigned to a work crew, given dinner, and shown to their bunks to rest up for the next day.

The understanding at a CC is that everyone must work to the best of their ability to do so. The able-bodied mostly work in the fields surrounding the clusters, in which the food that the residents eat is grown. (After harvest season is over, they keep busy chopping wood for heating, shoveling snow, rebuilding tools for the next planting season, and performing other such tasks as are common on any farm during the wintertime). Those in wheelchairs or with other mobility issues are mostly given office work in the administration building; the elderly are usually assigned to the child care centers; the blind do tasks that do not require sight, which can include anything from answering telephones to husking corn. Only those whose disability is permanent and total – quadriplegics or those with advanced Alzheimer’s disease, for example – are exempted from work entirely.

Though some people from Western welfare states may consider the practice of requiring the able poor to work as a condition of receiving help as barbaric, Christanians (after they’ve finished quoting II Thessalonians 3:10, which they are wont to do) will respond that it was not long ago that this was the norm even in those welfare states – they will cite the examples of the WPA, CCC, TVA, and other such New Deal agencies, which not only required real manual labor of those who participated in them, but used that labor to build valuable infrastructure projects such as the Hoover Dam or the electrification of the rural south and west. Which liberal, they ask, is willing to cast Franklin Delano Roosevelt as a cruel exploiter of the impoverished? And if they are not willing to do so, then how can they criticize anyone else for doing no more than what FDR did?

It should be pointed out here that work in a CC, while moderately demanding, is hardly backbreaking drudgery. The pace of life, like that on any farm, is slow and steady. While some labor-saving devices are intentionally absent from CC’s in order to ensure that everybody there has enough to do, there are machines there (operated by trustees, about whom we will hear more later) to do all the truly heavy or dangerous tasks. The Christanians also understand that most of the poor who find their way to a CC are urbanites with no experience of farm life; it is expected that they will have to be shown the ropes over the first few weeks or months (and that this will teach them the skills they would need to perhaps settle down on a few acres of their own someday). The point is not to punish them with Gulag-style hard labor (Christanians will eagerly remind you that Gulags were a project of atheistic communism), but to give them the pride and purpose that comes of labor, to teach them skills that will help them to fend for themselves, and of course to emphasize that freeloading is good for neither the person who allows themselves to sink to it nor for the larger society around them.

If it should happen that a resident in a CC who has not been found to be unfit for labor simply refuses to work, then trustees (or, if necessary, a constable on staff) will bar them from entry into the mess hall until hunger changes their mind. “He who will not work, let them also not eat”.

It cannot be restated enough that CC’s are not prisons, and that the people in them are not being punished for anything. The Christanians are an industrious people, and any claim that the mere necessity to work in order to earn one’s bread is any kind of punishment will be met with the indignant question “Which queen gave birth to you?” – a Christanian colloquialism which amounts to an inquiry as to what basis one might have for the idea that an honest day’s labor is beneath them. Furthermore, those who find themselves in a CC are frequently reminded that they are free to leave whenever they wish; the next bus bringing people in can just as easily take them away. However, they are also reminded that in Christania, public begging on the part of anyone who has either walked away from a CC or been expelled from one for violating its rules is a criminal offense. The reasoning here is that if someone was offered help and then either explicitly refused it, or implicitly refused it by refusing to follow its rules, then begging on their part is a species of fraud, in the same vein as running a fraudulent charity. As for anyone who has left a CC and finds themselves in need again, it is assumed that one trip through the system was enough to teach them how to avail themselves of its services should they require them. The doors to a CC are always open, while the doors that lead to crime or to becoming a public nuisance are slammed tightly shut.

While almost all residents end up leaving a CC after a stay of a few months, there are a relative handful who find that the structure and stability provided there suits them, and who choose to stay indefinitely. (Typically, these are people with a history of addiction or an unstable family life on the outside.) While mildly discouraged, this is not forbidden, and those who have been there (and displayed good behavior) for a few years and who have no plans to leave typically find themselves appointed as trustees. In addition to being given more demanding tasks such as operating (and training others in the operation of) the CC’s complex tools and machinery, they take a position as a sort of community leader. They are expected to act as foremen of work squads, conduct orientations, provide counseling, help resolve disputes, handle minor rule violations by residents, and otherwise help keep life in the CC running smoothly. Small as it may be in the great scope of the world, it is still a position of esteem and responsibility, and those who were the lowest of the low on the outside often find a place and a purpose in it.

Now that we have a solid picture of overview of the structure and operation of a CC, let us examine the typical day-to-day life of those who find themselves in one.

Wakeup time for most residents comes at a half-hour before sunrise, rounded to the nearest ten-minute interval. After showering and dressing, residents go to the mess hall for breakfast (work in the mess hall itself is one of those jobs generally reserved for the able elderly or mildly disabled, but also involves an earlier wakeup). Then there is a short morning prayer (like all religious activities at a CC – of which there are many – it is strongly encouraged, but not strictly mandatory), after which the residents head out for their work assignments. For most of them, this means the farm fields. The labors of the day begin, at their typical slow-but-steady pace (only during planting and harvest season can it be said to have any real intensity to it). For safety reasons, as well as to discourage residents from retreating inside themselves instead of acting as part of a team, headphones are forbidden while working, but the foremen leading the work squads often bring a “boom box” style radio with them, and tune it to some music, a sports broadcast, or religious programming so that all can hear while they work. At midday, a truck arrives from the mess hall with lunch, which the squad eats together, picnic-style. Work then resumes, and continues until dinner or dusk (whichever comes first at that time of year). After dinner in the mess hall, residents may attend Bible study, or whatever therapy or rehabilitation sessions they may need, or avail themselves of one of the many job training courses offered at CC’s. For those who would rather relax in their off time, there are a few options available as well. While there is no television, internet service, or cellular service at a CC, residents are encouraged to read, or to play cards or other games, or may listen to their own radios using headphones while in the dormitories until lights out, which is at 9PM every night.

(As for children who end up in a CC with their parents, they are placed in child care if very young, then in a school located on the grounds of the CC until they have reached an age at which they can join the adults in their labors. This is typically much younger than one would see in a Western nation, but it reflects the Christanians’ rather skeptical attitude toward the view of formal schooling as a guarantor of prosperity and panacea for social ills that has been so common in the West for the past century or so.)

This is the pattern six days a week (excepting, of course, a few national holidays such as Christmas or His Majesty’s birthday). On Sundays, the Sabbath is observed, and there is no unnecessary work (a few, such as mess and medical staff, must of course do their jobs on Sundays, but they are compensated with other time off). In addition, married couples who find themselves in the CC (of course, each husband and wife will have been separately sent to the appropriate male or female end of the CC upon arrival), on Sundays are allowed to spend the day together (though conjugal visits are not permitted, as anyone in a CC is not in any position to bring another child into the world). After breakfast, church services are held, and are attended by virtually everyone. These tend to be very long and very traditional, as befits the temperament of the Christanians. Once that is done, a long and leisurely lunch is served. Alcohol is generally prohibited in CC’s, however after Sunday lunch, residents (except those with a history of alcoholism or other relevant health problems) may have two pints of lager (this must be consumed in the mess hall, in order to prevent hoarding or having it end up in the hands of problem drinkers). Following this, a social event is held – for example, a movie (approved by His Excellency the Bishop, of course) may be screened, or a sporting match may be held between teams of residents, or a talent show put on.

Though great care is taken to keep all of these events wholesome, there is one variety of them that is seen as unfortunate, but unavoidable. It happens more often than one might hope that two residents find themselves in an irreconcilable conflict, to the point where preventing them from violent altercations with each other proves impossible. Where this happens, every attempt is made to resolve the conflict peaceably, using methods from counseling to mediation to moving residents from one dormitory to another. Should all of this fail, however, male residents are allowed to challenge each other to a boxing match in order to settle things between them. (Once again, this is in line with Christanian culture; specifically their long history of dueling, which by tradition has thankfully been limited to nonlethal practices.) When this is the case, the utmost care is taken to ensure that it is a fair fight. First, both men must be cleared to fight by the medical staff. Second, it must be mutually consented-to; both parties are interviewed separately by staff to make sure they want to go through with it, and if either says no, then some medical excuse will be concocted in order to cancel the fight without loss of face. But if both are able and willing, then they are permitted to face each other in the ring, with a referee (another trustee duty) and a doctor present, under Christanian Boxing Association rules of conduct. This too, will be scheduled for Sunday evening, and though (of course) His Majesty and His Excellency would prefer that such confrontations never come to pass, they are frequent enough that the large audiences of residents that are attracted by them rarely go very long between opportunities to see one.

With the sole exception of this outlet for male aggression, physical violence of any kind is strictly forbidden at a CC. Furthermore, any crime of any sort committed by a resident will be referred to a constable, who will arrest them and make sure they are remanded for trial by the proper authorities. Other than that, the rules at a CC are straightforward: no illicit intoxicants or sexual activity (The Christanians are upright people, but hardly naive about what can happen when people – especially men – are brought together in close quarters without access to the opposite sex. They are also of a decidedly non-modern mindset when it comes to the subject of sodomy.), no intimidation or hazing, no general troublemaking, and no loafing. Trustees may come up with methods to deal with minor violations of these rules, but severe or repeated cases will result in expulsion, which is the only real punishment on offer at a CC.

While the residents work in the fields, the staff (including residents restricted to office duty) will be busy finding work and housing for them so that they can leave and become independent again. Every effort is made to place residents with, or close to, friends and family, and often the staff manages to connect with those on the outside who are close to a resident in order to find a placement for them. For those without addiction or mental health problems, and who found themselves destitute only through unfortunate circumstance, stays are typically short in duration. Though the recidivism rate at CC’s is higher than anyone would like to see (the ideal rate, of course, being zero), it is low enough to convince the Christanians that their system is the most effective at actually lifting people out of poverty of any nation on Earth.

Thus does the pious, prosperous, peaceful, and orderly Kingdom of Christania face the problem of need within its borders. And while the Christanians would never presume to impose their system on any other people (nor ever will they suffer a foreign system being imposed on them), they are not shy about recommending its virtues to anyone who may inquire about it. Perhaps here in the welfare states of the West, we consider our system to be such a success that no other should be considered, and yet – and here I beg the pardon of the many generations of credentialed experts with degrees from the likes of Oxford, Cambridge, Yale, Harvard, and Princeton who designed our own antipoverty programs from atop their ivory towers, secure in the knowledge that their understanding of economics and human nature far exceeded that of not only the benighted ancients, but of the very living God Himself – I cannot help but wonder whether those backward, old-fashioned Christanians might be on to something after all.

(*In fairness, it should be pointed out that even the smarter variety of Marxists from days past understood how disastrous it would be to design a system that permitted perfectly healthy people to become parasites, endlessly drawing on a system that they did not contribute to. Stalin was one of them. Article 12 of the Soviet Constitution of 1936 reads: “In the U.S.S.R. work is a duty and a matter of honour for every able-bodied citizen, in accordance with the principle: ‘He who does not work, neither shall he eat’. The principle applied in the U.S.S.R. is that of socialism : ‘From each according to his ability, to each according to his work’.” It should go without saying that this level of realism is essentially unknown among the modern left.)

The Canterbury Tales And The Virtues Of Pauvreté

(Note: This piece may be a bit heavy on the lit-major nerdishness for those who haven’t read Chaucer and/or who aren’t so good with Middle English. Then again – what’s your excuse for these oversights? We’re talking about your cultural heritage here.)

Namedropping Geoffrey Chaucer in my last piece put me in mind to rework something I wrote years ago about the Canterbury Tales, and how it illustrates the attitude that the medievals held when it came to the subject of poverty. Their concept of virtuous poverty seems worth bringing up in an age in which it becomes increasingly obvious that the West’s excessive wealth has been a primary factor in making our society degenerate, decadent, and soft – neither strong enough to survive nor very much deserving of survival. Our ancestors, who were far wiser than we in every area except the technological, had attitudes toward this topic that were very different from ours, and this is reflected in the stories they have left us. Among these attitudes, the one perhaps most prominently displayed in the Canterbury Tales is the belief that poverty is the seedbed of virtue. Poverty was defined, in this context, not as wretched, ragged, starvation-level poverty, but rather as possession of a sufficiency of the necessities of life, without excess or luxury. In our own era, Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn clarified the differences between these two sorts of poverty when he remarked that:

“[T]he notion of misery is different from that of poverty. Péguy has already drawn the distinction between ‘pauvreté’ and ‘misère’. To live in misery means to suffer genuine physical privation: to know cold and hunger, to have no proper dwelling, to be dressed in rags, to be unable to secure medical attention. The poor, by contrast, have the necessities of life, but scarcely any more. They can borrow books, no doubt, but cannot buy them; they can hear music on the radio, but cannot afford a ticket to a concert; they cannot indulge in little extras of food and drink, but should, by self-discipline, be able to save a little. The poor have, therefore, the normal material preconditions for happiness — unless plagued by acquisitiveness or even envy, which has become a political force in the same measure as people have lost their faith.”

A hardcore monastic order here or there aside, misère was really never seen as being conducive to virtue, as medieval moralists of Chaucer’s bent believed that it would simply cause the sort of desperation that would lead to crime. However, pauvreté (and this is what the reader should assume I mean by the term “poverty” going forward), which could even be achieved by members of the gentle classes by the exercise of self-denial, was believed to engender virtue by lessening attachments to worldly possessions and pleasures. Thus, while poverty did not necessarily always produce virtue, nor was it necessary to live in poverty in order to be virtuous, poverty did, according to this worldview, create conditions that predisposed people towards leading virtuous lives. It is in order to illustrate this point that Chaucer created characters, most notably among the warrior and priestly classes, whose stories directly tie poverty to virtue.

The most explicit example of virtue tied to a poverty caused by self-denial is that of the Knight. Though he is a nobleman, and thus a member of the upper classes, his possessions are described as being exceedingly modest. Chaucer describes the Knight’s goods thus:

“But for to tellen yow of his array,
His hors were gode, but he was nat gay.
Of fustian he wered a gipoun
Al bismotered with his habergeoun”

The Knight’s horse and clothing are of the good and rugged quality that his position requires, but without a hint of opulence to them; he has not so much as a bauble that might be called a luxury. This self-enforced austerity befits a man who: “loved chivalrye/Trouthe and honour, fredom and curteisye”, but is conspicuously not described as loving money, ease, or comfort.

The Knight is not the only one whose poverty is voluntary. Included in the party are a number of churchmen who are bound by the three vows of monastic life: poverty, chastity, and obedience. But while there are some among them who live up to those vows (the Parson and the Clerk primary among them), there are others who plainly do not. The first among these is a nun, who Chaucer refers to as the Prioress. While Chaucer’s characterization of her is unquestionably of one who falls very short of his ideal for monastic life, it is also a portrait of a perfectly decent woman of perfectly good intentions who has been consigned to a life for which she is simply constitutionally unsuited (people became monks or nuns in those days for all sorts of reasons; some good, some bad). Her trespasses are the stuff not of wickedness, but of worldliness. Her violations of her vows of chastity, for example, are not ones that involve the narrow definition of that term which imply sexual misconduct, but the larger sense in which that word is (and was, by the medievals) understood – of an immodest attachment to worldly pleasures. These include an undue attachment to appearances, as illustrated in Chaucer’s long description of her impeccable table manners. In addition, a hint of violation both of the Prioress’s vows of chastity and of poverty is illustrated by her concern with the wellbeing of her dogs (which bring joy to her heart), while so many of her fellow men go needy. This suggests a misplaced charity, a selfishness and concern with that which provides her pleasure, and a self-indulgence which call into question both her understanding of and her commitment to her vows of chastity and poverty. Further evidence is provided by the description of her “broche of gold ful shene/On which ther was first write a crowned A/And after, ‘Amor vincit omnia’”. This sentiment could be read in two very different ways, and Chaucer leaves it unclear whether the love in question corresponds more closely to the concept of agapé, or to that of eros. Beyond the issue of chastity however, a gold brooch is most definitely a luxury, one that may border on unseemly when worn by a woman sworn to a life of poverty.

We move father down the scale of unsuitable churchmen when we meet the Friar. While the Prioress was a bit too concerned with her own personal pleasures, it is obvious that the Friar is a man who is entirely out for his own interests. He has found a cushy and lucrative sinecure, and will allow no concerns such as ecclesiastical vows, love of Christ, or concern for his fellow man interfere in his enjoyment of it. He spends his time with carefully-selected members of his community, for as we see: “Ful wel beloved and famulier was he/With frankeleyns (prosperous freeholders) over al in his contree”. And he is just as particular in his selection of those he does not spend time with:

“For unto swich a worthy man as he
Acorded nat, as by his facultee
To have with seke lazars aqueyntaunce:
It is nat honest, it may nat avaunce
For to delen with no swich poraille
But al with riche and selleres of vitaille”

In this, we see both infractions against his vows of poverty (for his preference for the company of the rich certainly had much to do with the amenities available while in their company), and his vows of chastity (in his attachment to the worldly pleasures those amenities represented). In addition, his policy of going easy on those who accompanied their confessions with “a good pitaunce”, smacks of disobedience of, if not the letter, then at least the spirit of the church’s policies on penance. Indeed, it may be fairly said of him that, while he is not a man of malicious intent, his life is lived not one bit in accordance with the spirit of a dedicated clergyman.

Representing a complete contrast to this is the Parson, a poor preacher who is the embodiment of Christian virtue. We learn nearly immediately of his poverty, as he is described as: “a povre Persoun of a toun”. Chaucer describes him in terms that neatly describe his own ideal of poverty, telling us that the Parson “coude in litel thing han suffisaunce”. And though he could secure a more lucrative sinecure in London, it does not interest him. Instead, he “dwelte at hoom, and kepte wel his folde”. And well-kept they were, for as Chaucer relates: “A better preest I trowe that nowhere noon is”.

Accompanying the Parson is the Clerk, Chaucer’s ideal of scholarly virtue (In Chaucer’s time, a “Clerk” meant a full-time scholar. As all institutions of higher learning were, in those days, affiliated with the church, and there was no distinction drawn between secular and religious learning, Clerks were considered to be living a sort of religious lifestyle, although they did not take the vows by which nuns and monks were bound). He is a thin man on a thin horse, covered by a thin cloak that is “ful thredbar”. We learn that there is a reason for his privation, as: “Yet hadde he but litel gold in cofre/But al that he mighte of his freendes hente/On bokes and lerninge he it spente”. As befits a true scholar, he eschews extravagance, loves knowledge above all else, and devotes every penny he can scrape together to the furtherance of learning.

It is fitting, then, that in the tale told by the poor and humble Clerk we meet the character that perhaps most explicitly embodies Chaucer’s philosophy on the power of poverty to engender virtue. As soon as the Clerk begins his tale of the fair Grisilde, we are told: “For povreliche y-fostred up was she/No likerous lust was thurgh hire herte y-ronne/She knew wel labour, but non ydel ese”. It is the hardship, labor, and poverty she has faced that has produced in her a countenance described as “rype and sad corage”, and it is this countenance that attracts the attention of the Marquis Walter. Once her marriage to him is complete, it also allows her to bear his cruelties. And bear them she does, for: “Disposed was, this humble creature/Th’adversitee of Fortune al t’endure”. Having never allowed herself to become attached to the worldly delights of wealth or status, Grisilde, when faced with the prospect of returning to poverty, stoically responds by paraphrasing Job: “Naked out of my fadres hous, quod she/I cam, and naked moot I turne agayn”. This is, by even the Clerk’s admission, positively superhuman fortitude in the face of more suffering than anyone should be expected to abide graciously. By repeatedly making a point of her humble upbringing, the poet transparently ties this fortitude to her poverty. Thus, when Walter reveals that all of his cruelties were mere tests designed to make sure that she was a worthy wife, and that from now on she could count on him to be a loving and generous (not to mention rich and noble) husband, she is shown to be a woman who, through a display of exceptional virtue, has earned exceptional privilege.

Though she is often presented as a near-opposite of Grisilde, and though it may seem bit incongruous for a character who herself seems to find little merit in the idea that poverty engenders virtue, the Wife of Bath’s Tale contains a philosophical digression on both the nature of virtuous poverty and on the topic of what truly makes a person noble. In her tale, a knight gets a well-deserved moral lecture from an old crone to whom he has found himself married. She reminds him that: “Heer may ye see wel how that genterye/Is nat annexed to possessioun”. She divorces true nobility from the idea of highborn status, declaring that “Thy gentillesse cometh fro God allone”. Having done this, she addresses poverty, reminding her husband (and thus, the reader) of examples of poverty tied to virtue in sources both religious and secular. She turns to the authority of the Gospels to attest that: “The hye God, on whom that we bileve/In wilful povert chees to live his lyf”. She follows this by an appeal to the learning of philosophers: “Glad povert is an honest thing, certeyn/This wol Senek and othere clerkes seyn”. And indeed she seems to sum up Chaucer’s position on poverty, previously illustrated in the General Prologue descriptions of the Parson and the Plowman, when she says: “But he that noght hath, ne coveyteth have/Is riche, although ye holde him but a knave”.

(In a fine parallel to the Clerk’s Tale, the Wife’s Tale ends happily, as once his old, ugly, and mysterious wife tests him and determines that he has learned his lesson, she obligingly uses magic to transform herself into a beautiful young woman.)

It can be seen, then, that Chaucer takes every opportunity to extol the virtues that he associates with poverty. The characters that are richest in the qualities most admired by the poet are consistently the poorest and humblest among them. Poverty is, in his judgment, an ideal breeding ground for moral virtue, health, wisdom, long life, and cleanliness of mind, body, and spirit. Though these beliefs go utterly against the grain of the Whig/Modernist worldview, we should ourselves be wise enough to reevaluate the wisdom of our ancestors; in it, there is a great deal of lost truth.