Man At The Crossroads: Some Further Investigations 2 of 2

Man At The Crossroads: Some Further Investigations 2 of 2 April 23, 2009

Part 1 of 2

Consequentialistic ethics, although used by people who truly intend to create a “better world,” are unacceptable. But it is only the reaction to the consequences of production which is used to determine if and when something is permissible by an entirely free market system. This indicates the inherent flaw within capitalism: it judges by results, ignoring the process by which they come about. Ethical considerations will tell us that even when we continue to produce more and more goods and create more and more wealth, if at the expense of human life, we must stop and find another way to act. We can not let the free market determine what is acceptable. We must reject life-destroying embryonic stem cell research and soul-destroying sweat shops alike, even though the free-market would accept both. “Any economic system which leaves millions of people dying in appalling conditions is a system of death, whatever intentions it may have for promoting greater justice.”[1] Capitalism is just as much a system of death as socialism.  Both are forms of economic materialism cut off from the spiritual foundations necessary for a just and personable society. Capitalism just as easily as socialism can destroy the soul or the body. “Anyone who studies our poisonous drugs, our denatured food, our deathtrap automobiles and houses, our lung-rotting cities, must conclude that we accept a good deal of murder as inevitable simply because it is done to make us save money.”[2] Unregulated capitalism with its free market ideal, when made as the basis of society, generates a culture of death. “We, the rich countries, have drawn to ourselves for our profit the life of the whole world. This is why we are perhaps already dead, because we are in the process of losing our soul.”[3] 

When we ignore either the physical or the spiritual elements of the world as we interact with it, we cannot expect our actions to be just. An imbalanced focus on one will eliminate the other, and the human person will suffer. While capitalism might produce some people who will be charitable, the charity tends to be that of the slave master to the slave, giving food and shelter so that the slave can work another day. If there were no need for the labor, there would be less charity. For capitalism, charity ends up being another form of control, nothing else. Is it any surprise that men such as Bill Gates and George Soros are at once known for ruthless business practices and for “philanthropy?” They want to gain control, and they know they need to dominate the market to do so. But their charity is aimed to keep the system as it is in place, a system they know how to manipulate. Their kind of charity is self-serving to the extreme (although it can look good on paper). 

If there were no need for laborers, there would be no need for charity to keep them alive (but as long as there is, it is helpful to make them dependent upon and thankful to their “benefactor”). When labor is done away with by mechanical means, we see the real fruits of our system, and the charade such charity tends to be. The poor are thrown out in the streets, where they suffer and perish in multitudes. One might think that something would be done for them, but what? When society rejects any basis transcending the free market ideology, why would it care to give to those deemed useless?  “It is easy to assume that people will always give to the poor and be concerned about social justice. But this does not happen by itself. Many great civilizations have shown no regard for these values at all and have even considered them weaknesses.[4] The only way the poor will be cared for is if we have a reason to care for them; because of their agnostic and pragmatic tendencies, capitalist systems will only be able to provide instrumental reasons for such care, and once the instrument is no longer needed, so will be the need to show the poor any sense of charity. 

Christians can no longer accept the status quo established by the bourgeois-capitalistic revolution. Conservatives living in capitalistic systems, because they by nature try to keep preserve the way things are, will forever be trapped by it. Modern conservatism is paradoxically a liberal phenomenon, only preserving a prior stage of the liberal development:

The individualism of modernity could of course find no use for the notion of tradition within its own conceptual scheme except as an adversary notion; it therefore all too willingly abandoned it to the Burkeans, who, faithful to Burke’s own allegiance, tried to combine adherence in politics to a conception of tradition which would vindicate the oligarchical revolution of property of 1688 and adherence in economics to the doctrine and institutions of the free market. The theoretical incoherence of this mismatch did not deprive it of ideological usefulness. But the outcome has been that modern conservatives are for the most part engaged in conserving only older rather than later versions of liberal individualism. Their own core doctrine is as liberal and as individualist as that of self-avowed liberals.[5]

The way forward is to break through the capitalistic tradition, to overcome the alliance between religion and our current social order. “There is always a temptation for religion to ally itself with the existing order, and if we today ally ourselves with the bourgeois because the enemies of the bourgeois are often also the enemies of the Church, we shall be repeating the mistake that the Gallican prelates made in the time of Louis XVIII.”[6] We must learn from the mistakes of the past, otherwise, we will make sure what happened before will happen again, and this time, because of our technological advances, the destruction could be total. 

Many people have rightfully criticized the a-moral nature of television programming and yet have affirmed and continue to affirm the economic system which produces it. They want to have it both ways. If they want an entirely free-market system, without governmental influence, then they can’t import their moral positions into the market itself. The market can use whatever moral positions it wants, as long as it satisfies its economic desires; but as soon as the market can no longer profit from them, they will be discarded for something new. Terry Eagleton ingeniously understood that the reaction to the free market when this happens is fundamentalism. “In the teeth of what it decries as a hedonistic, relativistic culture, Christian fundamentalism seeks to reinstate order, chastity, thrift, hard work, self-discipline and responsibility, all values that a godless consumerism threatens to rout. In some ways, its criticisms of the status quo are quite correct, which is what many a good liberal will not allow. Late capitalism does indeed breed a culture of mindless hedonism, sexual obsession, and moral shallowness. It is just that fundamentalism offers a cure which is probably even worse than the sickness. Fundamentalism is otherwordly in the sense that its values spring from an earlier epoch of capitalism (industrial production), not just because it dreams of pie in the sky. It is less the sigh of the oppressed creature than the outsed one. Fundamentalists are for the most part those whom capitalism has left behind. It has broken faith with them, as it will break faith with anyone and anything that no longer yeilds it a profit.”[7]

It is now time for Christians to realize that whatever connection capitalism might have had with the Christian past (since capitalism came out of  and is influenced by various forms of Christian thought), now that capitalism has moved beyond its Christian origins, they need to look beyond capitalism. The system has become an idol, one which makes the Christian serve the god of money. Christians cannot remain under it sway, and they must decide who they will serve, God or money. For it is just as Jesus had already said, “You cannot serve God and mammon” (Lk  16:13).


[1] Jean-Marie Cardinal Lustiger, Dare to Live. Trans. M.N.L. Couve de Murville (New York: Crossroad, 1988), 81.
[2] Joy Davidman. Smoke on the Mountain: An Interpretation of the Ten Commandments. (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1985), 78.
[3] Jean-Marie Cardinal Lustiger, Dare to Live, 81.

[4] Cardinal George Pell. God and Caesar: Selected Essays on Religion, Politics and Society (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 2007), 32.
[5] Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue. Second Edition. (South Bend: University of Notre Dame Press, 1984), 222.
[6] Christopher Dawson, “Catholicism and the Bourgeois Mind,” pgs.211 – 223 in Dynamics of World History (Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2002), 222.
[7] Terry Eagleton, Reason, Faith, and Revolution: Reflections on the God Debate (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009), 42-3

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