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Friday, July 25, 2014

Reviewing The Cultural Case For Capitalism Part 5 of 12

In today's episode of A Cultural Case For Capitalism (click here for part 5 of 12), Jonathan Witt attempts to solidify acceptance of Capitalism by tying it closely to Christianity. However, there is a problem, the branch of Christianity Witt wants to tie the origins of Capitalism with is that which appeared in the Dark Ages. So Witt must first dispel the monicker "Dark Ages" from this time period. Once he has done that, he hopes that the association he has built between Christianity and Capitalism makes Capitalism more than acceptable.

Witt does acknowledge that abuses took place back during this time period. He then goes to cite Rodney Stark, a historian and sociologist from Baylor, in stating that the Dark Ages weren't that dark by noting the advances that took place in technology, the arts, and literature. He then goes on to conclude that the advances that came in science and emergence of the Middle Class came from the "political, economic, and religious freedom" which in turn came from the Christian understanding that man was made in the image of God.

But there is a problem here. Should one, after studying history, associate political and religious freedom with Christianity's main institution, the Church? To answer this question, we might want to ask a series of questions. For example, what was the plight of the Jews during the Middle Ages? Weren't they expelled out of a number of Christian European countries during this time? And didn't they also serve as scapegoats for horrors like the Black Plague and thus were punished and killed in order to appease the Christian God? And didn't the Crusades occur during the Middle Ages where the knights participating in these wars sometimes showed more cruelty their Muslim counterparts? And didn't the Inquisition at times claim as its victims heretics and Jews and wasn't the mass burning of Jews part of the Inquisition?

And as we leave the 1500s, not forgetting Martin Luther's writings against the Jews, and proceed into the 1600, didn't Calvin's Geneva persecute and slaughter heretics and witches? And even here in the U.S., didn't the Puritans persecute and even martyr Quakers and, of course, that doesn't include the ethnic cleansing of America's indigenous people from the land because the Christian European settlers back then saw themselves as being a "New Israel?" And didn't some Christians also participate in the enslaving of Blacks for Biblical reasons? And let's not forget Christian Europe's colonizing of much of the world for the sake of gaining riches.

And, of course, none of this includes how the Church persecuted new thoughts and the people who produced them, such as Copernicus and heliocentricity, because it challenged the Church's interpretation of reality and thus its power?

See, these are problems that seem to be minimized by just acknowledging that there were horrors that came from the Middle Ages. And we should also note that horrors also came from places after the Middle Ages where the Church was still dominant. And as Witt tries to say that there are horrors in every age, which is true, it seems to create an irony. It is an irony because if the Church has received their message from God, why should a time period in which it is dominant so much resemble the rest of human history? 

See, problems grow when one wants to go beyond minimizing the tyranny of past Christianity and then try to associate religious and political freedoms solely with that Christianity. We should also note that authoritarianism is a main ingredient both in the structure of the Church and relationships Christians have with others. And usually, one doesn't normally associate freedoms with authoritarianism.  

So what about the claim that our freedoms are rooted in the belief that we are created in the image of God? We could take two approaches here. We could simply go back in time to see if that is what Christians, who were from both the Middle Ages and the time period afterwards wherever Christianity was dominant, concluded and practiced for others and not just themselves. Then we can also peek at whether those from the enlightenment contributed to the beliefs in political and religious freedoms.

But there is another approach we could take to Witt's claim. That approach seems to tie together Witt's basic concern with economic freedom with the model used by this blog to examine Witt's writings. If the idea of economic freedom came from the Medieval belief that man was made in God's image, then why is this freedom being associated with such an authoritarian institution like the Christian Church of the Dark Ages?

That question is more aptly answered by the model of thought used by this blog in examining Witt's writings on Capitalism (click here). That is because this blog has stated that democratic rule would eventually limit individual rights because such puts a growing priority on wealth over values such work and need and thus the concern for others. Thus, elite-centered rule is needed as individual rights and ownership increase over collective ownership. In fact, protecting the financial elites was James Madison's concern during the Constitutional debates when he expressed his fear that expanding the vote in England could result in agrarian reforms (click here and search for his comments on Tuesday, June 26). We should note that the Constitution was written to strengthen the Federal government in order to protect the financial elites of that time from  discontent and rebellion (click here and there to see Henry Knox's letter to George Washington and Federalist Paper #10).

Is economic freedom as applied to the individual really a foundational liberty based on the idea that man is made in God's image? Or has our model, and more importantly history, shown that economic liberty is code for increasing the privileges of business owners and the financial elite at the expense of the rights and well-being all other stakeholders in the economic system? Appealing to Christianity from the Middle Ages, as Witt does, seems to forget that not only was the Church, that is the Roman Church, very authoritarian, so were many Protestants. And quite often, the Protestants of history who sought political freedoms were not seeking freedoms for all but for themselves and others in their tribe only. 

In actuality, the freedoms that Witt says come from Medieval Christianity actually came from political structures. The political structure Witt noted was the city-state. But forerunner of the city-state were communes, an entity that naturally could rub the King and the Church the wrong way. The communes were walled cities and they did offer some liberties to the peasants who joined. At the same time there was a cost to belonging to a commune. That cost included mutual defense pacts so a degree of loyalty was required. So in a commune, there was a combination of both individual rights and collective ownership. Basically, these communes came into existence to provide protection for its members from lawless elites (nobles) and others in the absence of a centralized authority. If the protection could not come in time, then some sort of revenge would be exacted from the offending party as way of inhibiting future attacks. 

What we have today is a system that stresses freedoms, or perhaps we should say privileges because the freedoms are but for a few, for business elites--the lawless nobles of our day. This has resulted in what Witt and others like him call "Crony Capitalism." This form of Capitalism sees those with official authority prostitute themselves by the favors and special treatment they provide for the financial elite in exchange for money. And though Witt and others like him sincerely state that this is not the kind of political-economic system they want, it is difficult to see how what they advocate, economic freedoms or privileges protected by elite centered rule, can ever possibly emerge into something different. After all, why does Witt try to so tightly bind economic liberty with Christianity except to give economic liberty the credentials to be readily accepted. Such is an authoritarian move.

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