Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Christianity and capitalism

So David Bentley Hart recently made waves with his essay on Mammon, where he claims capitalism and Christianity simply don’t mix, which I quote here .

There is some truth to this, even Orthodox Christians exiled by Stalin, although decrying Marxism, noticed that capitalism shared many of its ills, like Bulgakov who 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 Christian philosopher, who many consider to be the Russian Christian answer to Nietzche, Berdyaev notes :

The 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. 
Progress “camouflages the true ends of life,” and that Christians should do everything in their power to “decrease the speed of that ever-moving current which is bearing us on to nothingness, and acquire a taste for eternity.” 
“new middle ages will look on power as a duty, and political life founded on a scramble for the right to power will be stigmatized as unreal and parasitical, without ontological significance.” 
“When societies begin to hanker after equality any kind of renaissance and harvest of creation is at an end. For the principle of equality is the principle of envy, envy of the being of another and bitterness at the inability to affirm one’s own.” 

Here in the West, presently Daniel Bell, a Christian economist has said, 

"Capitalism is wrong not simply because it fails to succor the impoverished, but also because where it succeeds it deforms and corrupts human desire into an insatiable drive for more. Capitalism makes a virtue of what an earlier era denounced as a vice, pleonexia or greed – a restless, possessive, acquisitive drive, but which today is celebrated as the aggressive, creative, entrepreneurial energy that distinguishes homo economicus.

...even if capitalism elevated the poor, it would still be wrong on account of the way it corrupts human relations, rendering them antagonistic, competitive. ... Capitalism is wrong because even if it delivers the goods, it nevertheless works against the Good, corrupting (and perpetuating the corruption of) human sociality in competitive and conflictual modalities. Capitalism is wrong, not simply on the grounds of what it fails to do but because of what it succeeds in doing: distorting human desire and relations.

The standard approach to evaluating the morality of capitalism is to ask, “does it work?” By which we mean does it alleviate or exacerbate the plight of persons who are poor?

 Instead of asking “does capitalism work?” we should ask, “What work does it do?”

 Even if capitalism made everyone on the planet a millionaire tomorrow it is to be opposed on the grounds of what it does to human relationships with ourselves, others, God and the rest of creation.

The problem with capitalism is that it corrupts and distorts human relations. It hinders the friendship, the communion for which we were created. ...Christianity and capitalism are contrasting ways of life, with very different visions and practices of humanity, God, and the good life.

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 Radical Orthodox moment has long been critical of capitalism, promoting a kind of old fashioned Christian socialism of the Guild System, John Milbank and Adrian Pabst has just published a book, Politics of Virtue, theorizing on what a postliberal society might look like. Past has written elsewhere that :

"By sundering material objects from moral meaning and symbolic significance, disembedded capital de-sacralises the shared reality we all inhabit and reduces everything to tradable commodities.
And by separating financial from ethical value and measuring all things according to nominal monetary worth, global finance grants abstract money quasi-sacred status.
In short, capitalism profanes the sacred and sacralises the profane - a modern radicalisation of the moneylenders who desecrated the Temple."

Finally the outlier Orthodox Nationalist Matthew Raphael Johnson links capitalism to liberalism in its essence :

"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."

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