This morning I had a conversation with a friend whom I haven’t seen in years. He asked me how my Greek exam went, I asked him how his PhD was going, etc. He had studied history and sociology in university so his background has always generated good conversation between us. When I was closer friends with him he was a committed evangelical, now he doesn’t even attend church.
We got onto the topic of capitalism. A while ago I had mentioned to him that I was reading Hayek; and somehow that crept into today’s conversation. He doesn’t like Hayek, his writings are “bullcrap.”
It was a good conversation in many ways. He kept assuring me that Christianity and capitalism are not compatible. Jesus Christ did not own private property and told everyone to give to the poor. Marxism (although my friend explained that he’s not a Marxist, per se) is much more compatible. The setting up of a welfare state to help those less fortunate is a better way, it inheres the Christian ethos of “doing good unto others.” If fact, capitalism, through globalisation, is the world’s greatest killer.
Having read of late the writings of Bastiat, Hazlitt, Mises, Hayek, North, Rose, Rothbard, Opitz, etc., I would likely differ with my friend not only on my economic ideals, but also with my understanding of economic history. Surely I’m only a novice when it comes to this plane in the history of thought, but I know what I’ve read.
Does capitalism, by definition, mean that there is no room for caring for others?
I’ve been reading some of Victor Davis Hanson’s work lately and have been struck by the unique place in history that we find ourselves in. The capitalist machine of the United States has been going in to Middle Eastern “thugocracies” and removing the autocrats in power. Yet, instead of making Afghanistan or Iraq a part of U.S. dominion, the Americans are in fact helping to rebuild their societies, with their own people. We see no looting by American-led forces, as we might have in other countries, in other times. Rather we see Western soldiers seeking to respect the people they are liberating.
Compare this attitude with Mao Tse-Tung and his armies who decimated 70 million of his own people – in peace time. Or Stalin and the Soviet gulag that saw millions more killed than the holocaust. And of course the National Socialism of fascist (and communist, in my opinion) Germany.
I would argue that recent history has shown that capitalism does not by definition call for the destruction of those who find themselves in a lesser estate. Conversely, communism/Marxism/socialism does. At least that’s what history tells me.
But I do agree with my friend on one point (although I don’t think he was making it intentionally). That is that any system, whether it be capitalism, communism, socialism, imperialism, or whatever, will not work if it is not predicated on the Christian Scriptures. Libertarianism, if not held back by common grace, should lead to anarchism (can anyone give me a consistent reason why it shouldn’t?). Communism, if not held back by common grace, should lead to absolute totalitarianism. Only a worldview that is consistently grounded in the Bible can a) make sense of economic order and b) provide the moral grounding to make the system not only work, but work in a way that all in a society will benefit from it.
I’ve linked to an article from The Freeman that outlines the basic economic philosophy of Ludwig von Mises. To my knowledge, Mises was an atheist, albeit a great economist who levelled devestating and lasting critiques of socialism/communism/fascism. Interestingly the article is written by a Christian named Edmund Opitz who has appropriated Misesian thought within a Christian worldview, and I think has displayed that libertarian economics, based upon a Christian worldview, is the only system that will bring true freedom to all peoples. Primarily because it will be based upon the gospel of Christ that is a gospel of freedom – freedom from sin and death.
My friend has stopped going to church because Christians are all a bunch of capitalists who don’t care about social welfare. I pointed him to the historical facts of men like William Wilberforce who have wrought great social change through the gospel, who were capitalists. What about Christians of today, are we really not into social welfare? Do we not care about the underpriveleged? Do the inner-city missions of Tenth Presbyterian, Philadelphia, or Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis mean nothing? What about the work of Capitol Hill Baptist, Washington? Or the Samaritan’s Purse? Or Grace Community Church, Los Angeles? I would argue, based on older and recent history that Christians are the ones who have provided the best social services for the underpriveleged – and they’re the only ones who have reason to – because they have been regenerated by the Spirit and no longer live under the dominion of a sin-nature. Christians are the one’s with a moral point of reference – God’s revelation.
I was recommended to read the works of Giorgio Agamben and Slavoj Zizek to see how a synthesis between socialist political thought and Christianity is possible. I’ll check them out, but I must admit that I am highly skeptical. If the Liberation Theology of Gustavo Gutierrez had anything to say, it was that socialism and Christianity do not mix well together. But I should at least give these writers a chance.
Any thoughts by beloved readers???