DOI: 10.12924/cis2023.11010046 |Publication Date: 23 December 2023

A Complete Act: Conservatism, Distributism and the Pattern Language for Sustainability

Stephen Quilley
University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada

Linking Norbert Elias’s concept of the triad of controls, to Andrew Willard Jones’ analysis of the ‘complete act’, the paper outlines the relation between culture and personality and the implications of this for any project of localization and the re-embedding of the economy. Re-iterating the reality that degrowth cannot be a liberal project, the paper goes on to explore the relation between Western individualism and Judeo-Christianity. Shorn of the overarching ontology and orienting architecture of Christianity, individualism has become corrosive, unstable and, in the end, self-destructive. The socially conservative preoccupation with a decline in virtue is linked to eroding social capital, anomie, and unhappiness arising from a surfeit of freedom. Hyper-social and -spatial mobility is linked to the suppression of the domain of Livelihood, with its bottom-up, communitarian and family-based forms of social regulation; and a corollary expansion of both top-down collectivist regulation by the State and the transactional logic of the Market. Livelihood is a function of embedded individuals enmeshed in relations not only with other individuals and groups, but with God. In contrast, the materialist metaphysics of Market and State both depend on disembedded, free-wheeling citizen-consumers, severed from any relation to transcendent values. But these same phenomena are also the principal drivers of consumption and ecological degradation. On this basis it is argued that any culture of ecological restraint predicated on the re-embedding of markets must also entail an ontological re-embedding of the sacred conception of the individual (the Imago Dei) into a relation with the divine. Such a project implies a very different understanding of freedom predicated on an external, legitimate authority; a freedom that is ‘fullest not when it serves itself but when it serves truths freely held” ([1], Loc. 419). Applying Christopher Alexander’s theory of pattern languages, the paper goes on to explore what such a sustainability project might look like.

Keywords: Andrew Willard Jones; Christopher Alexander; Complete Act; Degrowth; Distributism; GK Chesterton; Integralism; Karl Polanyi; Liberalism; Livelihood; Norbert Elias; Owen Barfield; Pattern Lan- guage; Post-liberalism; Re-embedding; Sustainability; Triad of


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