Saturday, February 2, 2008

Christianity, Capitalism, and Conservatism


Fr Andrew Phillips writes:
The aim of Western Capitalism is economic growth. This is its be-all and end-all, for economic growth brings money and Capitalism is the ideology of capital, of, in other words, money. But in the Gospel, this is called Mammon, which is opposed to God. From an Orthodox Christian standpoint what is missing in Western Capitalism and its humanist freemarket economics is the concept of man as a spiritual being and the contentment or inner happiness that spiritual life brings. The Market Economy unquestioningly presumes that economic growth means human contentment, inner happiness, because it sees man only as a material being with material needs. Given the record of Capitalism, family breakdown, abortion, crime, worker exploitation, drugs and pollution, it is clear that Capitalism does not bring man contentment, suggesting that man is not only a material being but also a spiritual being. Indeed Capitalism is dedicated to creating new material wants, making contentment impossible. Neither in the modern West, nor in East Asia, are the values of Capitalism conducive to the spiritual life of man and his inner happiness (though it could easily be argued that they are much more conducive to human happiness than Communism).
I can also not help but reproduce an entire blog post by the estimable Fr Jonathan Tobias:

Your’e not a conservative if …

So much has been written, and spoken, on what makes for conservatism, that we are all hopelessly dogpaddling in a swamp of contradictory ambiguities.

“Conservatism” or “conservative” are terms used by everybody, but meant clearly by almost nobody. Usually, the word means something fuzzily right of center. Russell Kirk did a nice job in attempting a positive definition in his worthwhile book, The Conservative Mind, but even he came to grief when he had to deal with tough nuts like GK (Chesterton) and his buddy Hillaire (an odd couple melded by a Shavian pejorative, “Chesterbelloc”).

They had the temerity to rail, while railing against the Fabians, about usury – surely a Brahmin holy cow that waddles, festooned and feted, in the marketplace. What’s more, they promoted something as deeply disturbing as “distributism.” Even the sound of the word inflicts spiritual agonies on any right-thinking Republican.

Kirk choked on calling Chesterton and Belloc “conservative,” yet their conservatism is unquestioned by Kirk’s counterparts on the other side. Counter-inhibitional anti-western egalitarian hyper-materialistic de-mythologizing tenure-lusting mummers (i.e., the New Human) positively hate GK, with one of their few cogent thought-processes they still possess (they would hate Belloc too, but he has passed, as so much has, out of their ADD span).

The Republican Party has done more than any other to destroy the good offices of the word. The GOP has managed to plop in a black pot, for a gloppy stew besmirched with a secret sorrow, the following ingredients of “Conservative Soup”:

  • No new taxes.
  • Less regulations for business.
  • More opportunities for defense contractors.
  • No interference with the marketplace, but donations are welcome.
  • God-status for successful corporations.
  • Pro-life and pro-church statements to keep poor Republicans happy, for now.

Kirk went out of his way to emphasize the tradition-preserving agenda of Conservatism, and its equally important task of strengthening the sociological function of the inhibition of destructive instincts (i.e., Freud’s understandings of sex and aggression).

But where, O Kirk, is the cultural preservation in today’s Republican scheme? Why is Leo Strauss paid more attention, in Cheney’s circles, than T. S. Eliot?

Yes, yes, yes -- the Democrats are just as transgressive, to be sure. Distributists and Christian social workers are just as disconsolate with the burros as Christian Conservatives should be with the olifants.

So, disappointed by Kirk, and in the absence of a decent positive declaration, I thought I might pitch a list of negative declamations. I’m taking the easy road here, because it’s always abler to know what you aren’t than to know what you are.

You’re NOT a conservative if …

… you think that you have a right to be happy, or to pursue happiness. Happiness is a pleasantry, but to make it a “right”? To objectify it as a “pursuit” or a “goal”? Are you not of greater worth than these?

… you believe that church is what you choose, or that you can change Sunday mornings (or Saturday nights) like channels on the remote.

… you hope that the poor will be cared for by the marketplace, or the state. Gee whiz, if you don’t care for the poor at all, or if you think that the poor are poor because it’s their fault and it’s no skin of your nose if they are (shrug, Atlas), you’re not just not conservative, you’re kind of a, lessee, a monster.

… you equate stewardship of the land with Greenpeace eco-warriorism, or dismiss it as an automatic ungodly coalition with Al Gore. Remember, my Patriarch is the Green Patriarch well-named, and he’s more conservative than any Republican, Russophile, or protestant monk at Esphigmenou.

… you confuse conservatism with libertarianism. It’s high time that Christian politics shake itself from its bribed and feted slumber (a doldrum banquet was put on at the Ritz for us fundy bumpkins, to impress and suppress), as for decades we were told that there is a Christian “right” to unhindered profiteering, community-busting agribusiness and gun-toting. There isn’t. Recreational drugs should be illegal. So should automatic weapons. So should executive salaries that are calculated in multiples of their employees’ by the second power.

… you replace creeds with consensus statements, hymns with choruses, sanctuaries with multi-purpose rooms, sinners with seekers, the Trinity with a Higher Power, beatitude with "be happy attitude." Awful, just downright offal.

… you give the power to declare war to the Executive. Which has been done.

... you think that suburbs, malls, Hamburger Helper, WalMart, and movies like "Talladega Nights" are natural.

… you prefer the rights of capital over the customs of clan and land. If you do, then you’re a capitalist, not a conservative. The two, I’m sorry to say, are not the same.

… your worldview has been determined by your latest neo-quasi-Christian therapy, and you understand and identify yourself by the advertisements of whatever sexy movement you’re paying dues to. Neocon, e.g. Emergent, e.g.

… you don’t need to be saved by Christ crucified anymore.

Now, if you are any of these, you could be many things, and I don’t deny it. You could even be Christian, for that matter. You could be, and probably are, much nicer than I. You could be a soccer mom, a Nascar dad, a member of a NCC commission on bioethics or a multicultural specialist. I could probably like you, even though you probably wouldn’t like me.

Though a conservative you would not, could not, be.

Amen, Father! If you haven't yet discovered Fr Jonathan's amazing blog, Second Terrace, then forget about this sorry attempt at a web log, and go read his instead.

Churchill is famously reputed to have quipped that democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others. Very much the same thing could be said about free-market capitalism. It may very well be the economic system must conducive to liberty; there is good evidence that planned economies not only don't work, but are also frequently correlated with political oppression. That said, capitalism should not be regarded as a Christian good, or as the foundational tenant of conservatism (as it is, for instance, among libertarians). Since the world has rejected God as its King, we have to do our best to govern ourselves as prudently as possible in a fallen world (cf., I Sam 8:4-8). But to elevate strategies of trade into a good in and of it self is to reject Christ's liberating call to poverty, self-renunciation, charity, and non-acquisitiveness. 

The above icon depicts a Radical forcibly evicting from the Temple the bankers who maintained a monopoly over currency exchange. Christ here is overturning the tables or "trapeza," which is the Greek word for "bank."

4 comments:

Nomodiphas said...

Excellent post. Very thought provoking, thanks for the link to this blog.

One thing I am worried about is that it seems to me that the majority of people in Capitalistic societies pursue wealth because they think wealth is the best means to happiness. Now, obviously wealth does not bring happiness and I think more and more people are realizing this fact. In response they are turning to spiritual things. In one sense this is good, we want the lost to realize the world is bankrupt and turn to the Lord. But in another sense it can be problematic. What I fear is that people (especially people coming from a capitalistic background) are turning to God for the end that capitalism failed to provide: their happiness. They come to God in hopes that God can bring them more happiness, help them have a better marriage, be better parents, etc. It is true that if one follows God’s commands they will be happier (at least in the long run, for true happiness is found in God alone) and they will have better relationships. But there is a big difference between making God your ultimate end (and in doing so naturally reaping the benefits of communion with Him) and using God for you own private end of happiness.

This has been an observation of mine (especially within the Evangelical tradition) from the area I live. God is more or less made into a commodity. Packaged and sold in much the same way a new car is. Buy this new car (or buy into God) and you’ll be happy and free. This degradation of God has been very disturbing to me.

As Russia moves into capitalism have you noticed this trend at all?

Felix Culpa said...

One sees this even more in the "Hollywood" religions like Kabbalah and Scientology, both of which are essentially businesses selling mental health and spiritual well-being for a pretty penny.

As for Russia, I'd refer you to a recent interview given by Metropolitan Kyrill of Smolensk to the German paper Der Spiegel:

SPIEGEL: Is capitalism ultimately worse than communism?

Kyrill: The free market economy has certainly proved to be more effective than the planned economy. Unlike corporate executives, however, the church also believes in justice. As far as that's concerned, we have no fewer problems today, perhaps even more, than in the Soviet era. The gap between rich and poor in Russia is scandalous. That's an issue we are addressing.

SPIEGEL: You must find it obscene, the way the Russian oligarchs, with their palaces and yachts, show off their wealth.

Kyrill: It isn't the church's place to point to someone and say: He owns yachts and airplanes, so let's take away his riches and redistribute them. That happened in the 1917 revolution. At the time, they were saying that paradise was the next step after expropriation. But what we got instead was hell. May God protect Russia from repeating the same mistake. However, the government must ensure that the gap doesn't become too wide. Russia's future depends on it.

SPIEGEL: What should it do?

Kyrill: Our church called for a progressive income tax even before the political parties did. And we want to see a tax imposed on luxury goods. But this tax cannot be used to clip the wings of the newly created middle class. Our country needs an environment that encourages the rich to live simple lives. Many of them are already doing good things today. Wealthy private citizens already pay for almost all of the church's social programs. It would be wrong to claim that all wealthy people are bad and all poor people are good.

Full interview here:
http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,druck-527618,00.html

Nomodiphas said...

Thanks.

Lucky Archer - Lakis Velotris said...

The Gangreen Papotricharch on the environment, Olympia Buckles Snow on health care, and Arriana Stahingolives Huffington on Fox prove that we must evangelize Greece for the Gospel and capitalism. Their Orthodox faith is the root harlot of communism!Palamite Zealotes massacred Thessalonian aristocracy in preparation for Cantacuzene usurpation which brought about hesychast hyperventilatory hallutination. This soviet socialism motivated Anatolian farmers to embrace Turks in the 1400s to avoid redistributative taxation and then for liberated mainlanders to migrate to Smyrna in the 1800s.