Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The Orthodox option against Capitalism.

First live under Communism, then try complaining about capitalism ! So they say. But faithful Orthodox Christians have lived both, and, while denouncing Marxism & communism as genuine atrocities, neither have they bright words for Capitalism either.

The great Orthodox theologian Bulgakov says,

“In this civilization for hairdressers, where is there any place for bringing to birth the agonies of reflection, wrestling with the torments of conscience, the struggles ... of love and self- denial, the unremitting battle with self? Where in this universal restaurant can our poor spirit find room for its cosmic questions? 

Spirit is here surrendered without any pretence at a struggle to the claims of sensual gratification; its birthright is sold for a mess of pottage. And to compensate for the absence of ideals, we are offered the prospect of ‘living in the midst of beauty’. The drowning of the spirit in sensuality, life without ideals, spiritual embourgeoisement—this is the inevitable logic of hedonism.”
And the existentialist Orthodox philosopher Berdyaev, also in exile from Stalin’s communism, writes :

he whole economic system of Capitalism is an offshoot of a devouring and overwhelming lust, of a kind that can hold sway only in a society that has deliberately renounced the Christian asceticism and turned away from Heaven to give itself over exclusively to earthly gratifications. 

It is quite obvious that Capitalism is unthinkable as a ‘sacred’ economy. It is the result of a secularization of economic life, and by it the hierarchical subordination of the material to the spiritual is inverted. The autonomy of economics has ended in their dominating the whole life of human societies: the worship of Mammon has become the determining force of the age. 

And the worst of it is that this undisguised ‘mammonism’ is regarded as a very good thing, an attainment to the knowledge of truth and a release from illusions. Economic materialism formulates this to perfection when it brands the whole spiritual life of man as a deception and a dream.”

David Bentley Hart opining on the horrors of Mammon writes, 

“The history of capitalism and the history of secularism are not two accidentally contemporaneous tales, after all; they are the same story told from different vantages. Any dominant material economy is complicit with, and in fact demands, a particular anthropology, ethics, and social vision. 

And a late capitalist culture, being intrinsically a consumerist economy, of necessity promotes a voluntarist under-standing of individual freedom and a purely negative understanding of social and political liberty. 
The entire system depends not merely on supplying needs and satisfying natural longings, but on the ceaseless invention of ever newer desires, ever more choices. It is also a system inevitably corrosive of as many prohibitions of desire and inhibitions of the will as possible, and therefore of all those customs and institutions—religious, cultural, social—that tend to restrain or even forbid so many acquisitive longings and individual choices. 
This is what Marx genuinely admired about capitalism: its power to dissolve all the immemorial associations of family, tradition, faith, and affinity, the irresistible dynamism of its dissolution of ancient values, its (to borrow a loathsome phrase) “gales of creative destruction.” 

The secular world—our world, our age—is one from which as many mediating and subsidiary powers have been purged as possible, precisely to make room for the adventures of the will. It is a reality in which all social, political, and economic associations have been reduced to a bare tension between the individual and the state, each of which secures the other against the intrusions and encroachments of other claims to authority, other demands upon desire, other narratives of the human. Secularization is simply developed capitalism in its ineluctable cultural manifestation. 
And it is a system that inevitably eventuates not only in economic, but cultural, “consumerism,” because it can continue to create wealth sufficient to sustain the investment system only by a social habit of consumption extravagantly in excess of mere natural need or even (arguably) natural want. 

Thus it must dedicate itself not only to fulfilling desire, but to fabricating new desires, prompted by fashion, or by seductive appeals to what 1 John calls “the lust of the eyes”—the high art which we call “advertising.” 
As a cultural reality, late capitalism is not merely a regulatory regime for markets, but also a positive system of values, necessarily at odds with other orders of desire, especially those that seek to limit acquisition or inhibit expressions of the will.

....while our ancestors inhabited a world full of gods or saints, ours is one in which they have all been chased away by advertising, into the hidden world of personal devotion or private fixation. Public life is a realm of pure elective spontaneity, in every sphere, and that power of choice must be ceaselessly directed toward an interminable diversity of consumer goods, and encouraged to expand into ever more regions of fiscal, moral, and spiritual life. 

We are shaped by what we desire, and what we desire is shaped by the material culture that surrounds us, and by the ideologies and imaginative possibilities that it embodies and sustains.”

Animated poem Allen Ginsberg - Moloch

 Catholic Daniel M. Bell Jr. explains, “The struggle against savage capitalism must be waged at the level of ontology, for capitalism advances not merely by economic victory but by ontological capture.”

The Orthodox Nationalist Dr .Matthew Raphael Johnson writes,

Dostoevsky called himself a “Christian socialist” more than once. ..Modern, bourgeois capitalism is not consistent with Orthodoxy at any level. Solzhenitsyn spent quite a bit of time explaining how socialism and capitalism were the same far more than they were different: they both were materialist, obsessed with production and technology and thought that happiness came through money and its power. 

They both create a huge state that oversees production. They both create a wealthy ruling class. They both tolerate no organized opposition. They reject the virtues in favor of “efficiency.” They both see man as a cog in a great wheel of production. They see man really as a bundle of nerve endings, at root, seeking satisfaction in the latest technological inventions or labor saving devices (that never seem to save labor).

He ties it all in to liberalism :

“Liberal rule is more insidious and sophisticated than the USSR because it is not based on state power. Instead, it is based on the rule of private capital. The cosmopolitan and neurotic American capitalist seeks to “liberate the individual” so as to more easily enslave him to his passions. Then, this isolated mass-man — this crippled, malformed cipher of a human being — is offered the satisfaction of his passions for a fee.”

Here Rev. Metropolitan of Nafpaktos and Saint Vlasios, fr. Hierotheos Vlachos, both highly respected Orthodox theologians, make the case for Capitalism to be antithetical to Christianity, based on deformed Western metaphysics reliance on rationality to organize life, by way of Weber of course.

By way of webber they note that there have always been profit making and class differences, but in the West, because of  its unique metaphysics,  

“The difference is that in the Western Middle Ages, Capitalism took on the form of a rational organisation; it was the pursuit of profit, “within the framework of a permanent, rationalistically-organised capitalist business, with efficiency as its criterion...

The centre of man’s life became rational reasoning and with it, man came to regulate all his functions and activities. 

....he rational, business recycling of capital and the rational capitalist organising of labour” were born in the West during the Middle Ages, and an important role to their growth was played by the Protestants with their particular ethics. It is a fact that the growth of the spirit of Capitalism is part of the evolution of rationalism”

They then say, originating in Augustine's predestination, and blooming fully finally in protestantism, came the deep calculations of the “verification and reassurance of God’s Grace in man...Am I chosen, or am I not?”

“It is only natural that such a mentality would lead to a rationalizing of moral behaviour, and in general to a rationalist view of man’s life. And, as we saw elsewhere, this rationalism and rationalist organizing of life had resounding consequences in the social sphere also, since that is where the spirit of Capitalism as we know it today was created...

The fact is that the theory of predestination rationalised life, it systematised social and professional activities and placed man within the framework of the duties he had to carry out. It was precisely these points that contributed towards the development of the so-called spirit of Capitalism...

The degree to which the theory of predestination significantly affected the capitalist mentality of Western man will become evident from the consequences of this theory on private life, on the asceticism of Protestantism and on the sanctity of the profession

God’s transcendence led the puritan to a complete existential isolation, to a negative stance towards all the emotional elements that exist in civilization and religion, and it in fact became the root of the most pessimistic form of individualism. Even the Calvinist communication with God “would take place in profound spiritual isolation”.

This individualism, which became a way of life, significantly contributed to the creation of the spirit of Capitalism, since the Capitalist turns inwardly to himself; he shuts himself up hermetically inside himself and does not pay any attention to the others.

According to Calvin, the world exists only for the glory of God. The chosen Christian exists in the world for no other reason than to contribute to the augmenting of God’s glory. The chosen offers social labour, because this is what God demands for the organizing of social life. 

Consequently, Calvinists work socially, they exercise professional work only for the greatest possible glory of God. It is within this context that we should also regard the love towards our neighbour. This impersonal, utilitarian labour and offer contribute to the glory of God.

It is obvious that the anthropological and practical consequences of the doctrine of predestination cultivate a form of pietistic individualism and they direct man towards a spiritual and social loneliness. Because when a community offer is impersonal, then in reality it is a form of social individualism. We believe that this individualistic way of living constitutes one of the basic factors of the spirit of Capitalism.

Indeed, Orthodoxy differs radically, both Capitalism as well as Socialism, from a philosophical, structural and organisational point of view, since both these systems are offspring of Western metaphysics. The social teaching of Socialism is related to the social teaching of Christianity, but we there are two basic differences. The one difference is that its implementation is achieved through revolutions and laws and not with freedom and love; the other difference is that Socialism, in most of its manifestations, is linked to a specific world theory and is thus an atheistic ideology. 

Most certainly however, while Orthodoxy may relate to Socialism from the aspect of social teaching, it is nevertheless in complete dialectic opposition to the spirit of Capitalism.

Both Capitalism and Socialism are transferred and imported systems. One could add here that the Socialist theories infiltrated the Orthodox East where Orthodoxy prevailed, because the views on justice, equality, love etc. were familiar here, years ago. Even today, the theories of Socialism – Marxism are difficult to prevail in the Western world, because the individual prevails there. And in these individualist perceptions, Capitalism flourishes.

We could preferably say that Orthodoxy is anti-metaphysical. The centre of Orthodox anthropology is not the “orthos logos” (the appropriate word, reasoning). Without abolishing logic, Orthodoxy transcends it through a revelation by God, which is beyond all reasoning and not against reasoning.

The theory of predestination is rejected by the theology of the Fathers of the Church. God does not violate man’s freedom and those who wish can become sons of God. In Orthodoxy there is no “aristocracy of the pious”. When man follows a specific method of therapy, he can even reach the state of theoptia (the ‘sight’ of God). Thus, he comes to know God, he acquires selfless love and loves the entire world. Just as medical science cannot be metaphysical, so Orthodox theology cannot be metaphysical.

We are all deacons (ministers). Job professionalism, and especially the mentality of professionalism, is linked to profit, to the increase in production by any means, to the exploitation of man and so many other terrible things.

The view that the profession of each person is predetermined by divine Providence is inhuman, since it abolishes man’s freedom or makes him even more audacious. Imagine what could happen if the merchant, the manufacturer and in general every businessman thought that their work was a profession determined by God. In this case, every kind of abuse, injustice and exploitation would be justified.  This is why labour does not identify with the profession. After all, the tradition of our land in rural societies and communities and in the Monasteries has proved that one can work and offer much, without exercising a particular profession. But when man is obliged to exercise a specialised profession, he must perceive it as a labour that is performed within the framework of philotheia (love of God) and philanthropy (love of fellow man).

Orthodox ascesis does not aspire to the fulfilment of our duties to God, or to the reassurance that one belongs in the aristocracy of the chosen, but to the liberation of our nous (mind) from its subjugation to creations.

In opposition to rationalism, according to which rational reason (orthos logos) is man’s centre, Orthodoxy accepts that man’s centres are two, nous (mind) and logos (word, reason). The nous relates to God and the divine, while the logos relates to our environment. When the nous is enslaved by creations, man is psychically, psychologically and spiritually ill. The ascetic effort aspires to liberating man’s nous from its subjection to logic, to passions and the world that surrounds him.” 

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