The Prosperity Gospel, simply put, is the belief that God’s favor (and our own justification from sin) is experienced as material or earthly success. It is ubiquitous throughout America (and indeed, the West generally) but it takes many forms. The most obvious example is the often-caricatured Joel Osteen and similar mega-evangelists who preach success as the will of God.
Some examples are harder to recognize. One is the assumption that poverty is a sign of laziness, of vice and not only should we avoid poverty, we should avoid the vicious poor. Another is the feeling that if we’re not doing anything “significant” in the world, we’re not doing God’s will. Another is the idea that the efficiency or success of a political action is enough to make it right.
The corollary of the prosperity gospel is that suffering is a sign of God’s displeasure, or put more bluntly, we think that God doesn’t love us because we are poor, sick, in pain, lonely etc. When we’ve been told all our lives that if God shows us his favor, we will be happy and free and successful, our misery, burdens, and failures can only be a sign that God has abandoned us.
This couldn’t be further from the truth. God himself, who is Love, as the apostle John reminds us, showed his love by giving us his beloved son to suffer torture and die, unsuccessful in the world’s eyes. St. Paul asks:
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
(Romans 8:35, 37-39)
The Prosperity Gospel is, at its roots, the offspring of Reformation theology/anthropology, specifically the idea of the total depravity of the human soul and the arbitrary justification by the gift of Faith from God. In this understanding, we can do nothing virtuous by our own free will, but all the good we do is God working through us, covering up our total depravity with direct intervention. But this also implies we can do no evil without direct intervention from God, and so our actions themselves don’t tell us if we are saved. We cannot know if we are saved unless we can show that God is working through us. Material success is God’s sign that he has saved us, otherwise we are clearly punished with misery and failure.
This is a gospel of despair and is completely antithetical to the promise of God in the scripture and through the sacraments of the Church. We are all in need of forgiveness. Success doesn’t mean we are virtuous and on our way to heaven. Nor does suffering mean we are wicked and damned. But this despair has taken hold of our country (and even our world where we have insisted on spreading it.) If God inflicts suffering on us because we are evil and depraved, we must all be evil and depraved and unworthy of love. If God grants success to his elect, then most of us experience a sad absence of election.
This insidious gospel is in fact not good news at all, and it is no wonder so many turn away from the Prosperity God. He is a vindictive and spiteful God, and heaven with Him would likely be as hellish as earth.
Yet, for all our rejection of the Prosperity God, we still seek after and desire earthly prosperity, for what else is there if heaven is hell? This leads to a viciously competitive culture and an ideal of progressive positivism; all of history ought to lead to an ever-increasing freedom of humanity from the shackles of pain and misery. We thus seek out pleasure as the main goal of our existence. Let nothing stand in our way, and certainly not a vindictive Prosperity God. This is liberalism, and it is the bastard son of the Prosperity Gospel who has rejected his profligate father.
Of course, the real Gospel holds the hope that we can do good, not just “have success.” Heaven is real, and the glories of it make the suffering of this world less than dust on the scale. God is not vindictive, but loving, and he calls us to reject earthly success so that we do not choose this life of suffering over the the afterlife of bliss.
Leisure is more than just free time. It is time devoted to the unencumbered fulfillment of the human spirit in its reflection of the Godhead. It is a time for love, creativity, and contemplation. In this way, it can only be enjoyed consistently by those who are not required to work for a living.
However, it is proper that our work also contain in itself the seeds of leisure (it should be a service or creative or yet some form of contemplation) so that even those who must work may fulfill the needs of the human spirit (in fact, one may say that work is itself a reflection of God. Yes, truly, but drudgery is proper to the fall and is not work as God Himself works.)
Furthermore, it is proper that the worker also have regular recourse to leisure that is not work, and this is to be contrasted with “recreation” or the recovery of the body and mind after working. Leisure is not passive. It requires the engagement of the whole person. For this reason, leisure is often not possible on a daily basis because for the worker, his mind and body are not recovered sufficiently to engage in true leisure, not to mention various other responsibilities that take his time. Thus, leisure is not just “the time when you are not engaged in your livelihood.” In fact, your livelihood, as I mentioned above, should itself contain at least the seeds of leisure and there are many other uses of free time that are not leisurely.
The other reason why leisure is not possible for the average worker (nor even for the independently wealthy) is that true leisure is not understood because human nature is misunderstood. This leads to a decided lack of education in leisure which in turn leads to an inability of most people to properly pursue it. This is beside the fact that leisure itself is sort of seen as something you “earn” and often makes modern man feel guilty that he is not engaged in some utilitarian pursuit, so called. This obsession with work and utility yet this lack of understanding of leisure and human nature leads to a very depressing society in which fever-pitch activity alternates with boredom and/or bouts of mere inactivity.
This is not good for the individual nor is it good for society. We are all called to reflect God in our daily lives and we must as a society decide to ennoble work with leisure and provide the education in leisurely pursuits to all so that all may partake in natural human fulfillment in the broad variety of ways that we have developed.
As George Orwell once wrote: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” Can we have a society of perfect equality? Or perhaps most importantly, should we? What does equality mean? Are “all men created equal?”
It is interesting to note that not everyone has the same definition of equality, or, I suppose more accurately, not everyone agrees on what should be equal. When the Founding Fathers stated that “all men are created equal,” they certainly weren’t talking about the black slave, and some weren’t talking about women or Catholics either. However, this aside, what “all men” were “equal” in were certain inalienable rights. Everyone (except those excluded) was endowed by the Creator with the right to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness, among other less explicitly mentioned rights.
This idea of “equal rights” which is so fundamental to the American way of life is a little misleading. For one thing, there has always been a system of justice designed to deprive criminals of life, liberty, and/or property (sometimes considered analogous to happiness, somehow); there are some who don’t deserve to exercise their rights, even if they have them. Furthermore, where there is a dispute between individuals, an appeal to “equal rights” falls flat on its face. Whoever adjudicates the dispute must decide whose “rights” are more important.
It is often hard to exercise rights without the means to do it. For example, according to the Bill of Rights, Americans have the right to bear arms (I won’t go into the debate over this amendment right now). Not everyone can afford a gun (or a sword, or a spear, or a bow and arrow, etc.) not to mention that not everyone can afford the same kind of gun. As to the right to Life mentioned in the Declaration of Independence, not everyone has the power to decide who lives and who dies, but some people do! Not only are there lawmakers who decide what is considered a crime deserving of death, but there are also those with the social capital to influence these decisions. Furthermore, not everyone dies or lives according to his or her choice. Some are unable to provide for themselves or their families and thus their “right to life” is not fully exercised.
So, clearly “equal rights” are not absolute in our society, and if there are any rights that should be absolute, it is not entirely clear which they should be. Let us, for now, set aside the question of rights.
Perhaps, then, equality of means is what proponents of an equal society are pursuing. A perfect society is one in which everyone has the same things so that they can do and get the same things, so that no one has an advantage over the other. On the screen, it looks great. Let us not be satisfied with “on the screen” however. Imagine, if you will, that it was possible for everyone to have the same things. This would either mean that everything was shared by everyone or else that every single person owned an instance of every single thing. Ultimately, the first is the collectivist’s dream, the second, the individualist’s. However, they are both nightmares.
If everything is shared by everyone, who makes sure that everyone gets to share equally in that which is shared? If there is a farm that is shared by everyone, who farms it? If everyone who shares it takes turns farming, who decides who works when? Not everyone can farm well. Some are weaker physically, others are allergic to certain plants, etc. Clearly not everyone can work equally on the farm, so do they get less of a share of the farm? Should only those who can farm well be allowed to share in the crop? This clearly flies in the face of the “equality” first posited. Decisions have to be made by someone as to how things are shared. Things get even more complicated when we think about the fact that life demands much more than just farming. The more that is “shared” the greater the need for a decision-making authority to ensure justice.
In the individualist’s nightmare, each person owns one of everything. However, not every single farm is equal. Even if each person receives an equal size farm with an equal amount of seed, the harvest will be different in each place, not to mention the inequality already mentioned above; not everyone can farm well. To give each person everything needed for survival so that he or she need not depend on anyone else is to give everyone more than they can properly handle.
Instead of these nightmares, we of course can see that reality demands that not everyone have the same things. Inequality is a necessary part of any work toward a common end. A new building needs a leader of design and a leader of construction not to mention people to do the various tasks for each area. No one can do everything and not everyone can do something.
In the end, “equality of means” is both undesirable and impossible. After all, one of the most important “means” that we have is our own strengths, and these are all inherently different and unequal. Contrary to popular belief, this inequality is of utmost importance in reaching our common goals. Not everyone will be or can be a politician. Not everyone will be or can be a farmer, but we need people who do each if we are to reach the goal of a just society.
There is very little in which humans are naturally equal. There is always the stronger and the weaker in nature. Instead of focusing on equality, perhaps we should, as a society, be focusing on mutual cooperation within the inequality that is inherent in nature. A proper and useful distribution of rights, obligations, and means will always be unequal, and it is the only way we can work for a just society.
One of the most popular criticisms of the current American political climate is that it is too partisan; no one seems to be able to agree on anything. In my post on Economic Independence, I pointed out that the two sides of the argument both held that the economic freedom of America from foreign influence was a goal worth pursuing. It was, in short, a shared value from which they could argue to a particular course of action. They were able to have a proper debate with rigourous rhetoric on both sides because there was a common understanding of economy and the common good.
Today there is none of that. Today, there is not even agreement on the value of America, let alone its economy. The Founding Fathers were adamantly against partisan politics, but in fact this is what their liberalism has wrought. There is no possibility of debate on issues of the common good and human nature as long as the libertarian philosophy is assumed.
Let me explain. The libertarian philosophy claims that the individual is free to pursue happiness unencumbered by the interference of others. Strong libertarians deny any obligation an individual has to any group of people apart from what he has agreed to in order to pursue his own good. Right away there is a tension between the idea of a common or shared good that belongs to everyone and the idea of the individual good. But of course, the libertarian might say, as long as a group is in agreement, all members should be able to be free to pursue their own good. And this is where it gets tricky. All individual goods being met is not the same as a shared good, and in order for any sort of meaningful debate to take place, there has to be a good in mind that is shared between all parties.
For example, if two men find a cow walking aimlessly down the road, they might ask “What should we do with this cow?” Right away, there is the shared assumption that they should do something with the cow. Some men who encountered the cow might think otherwise. Their shared assumption might be that they shouldn’t do anything with the cow. However, if one of the men thinks one way and one thinks the other way, it is impossible to hold the debate “What should be done with the cow” until both parties are agree that something should be done.
If a nation asks “How should we define marriage for the 21st century?” and there are some who believe that we shouldn’t define marriage for the 21st century any differently than we have before and some who believe that it is imperative that a new definition be made, there is no common goal, no common value, therefore no proper debate. The first debate, “Should we redefine marriage at all?” must be had before any sort of debate about the nature of such a redefinition.
But of course, that debate is impossible without first having shared values about what is good for the community, what is good for children, what is good for those who are married etc. Those debates, furthermore, presuppose that there is some way of definitively knowing the answer to these, which implies the need for an authority. Ultimately, then, none of these debates can occur properly if there is not agreement on the authority to which the people can appeal.
The libertarian authority, ultimately, is the self. Unless one side is willing to take the other side as an authority, while the libertarian philosophy holds sway, there can be no productive debate. This might explain why Catholics, who traditionally were against the libertarian philosophy, have come to accept its authority for the sake of avoiding constant conflict.
It seems, however, that finally libertarianism has reached its natural end: endless conflict. No longer are people willing to cede authority to anyone else, for to do so would be illiberal. Instead, we have an obsession in this country with “defining ourselves” and anything which conflicts with our self-definition is to be defeated at all costs. The new dogma is that everyone must accept everyone else as their own authority about the meaning of their life.
Here’s the catch. Not everyone believes in this dogma.
Because not everyone believes in this dogma and the authority which proclaims it, there can be no shared principles and values from which to have a debate. We are forced to either agree to work from someone else’s principles or we are doomed to perpetual stalemate.
If we look at the political climate these days, is this not what we see? It is clear that not everyone agrees on policy decisions, but this is primarily because they do not agree on what our goals should be. They can not agree on what our goals should be because they do not have a shared vision of the nature humanity, individually and communally. They do not have a shared vision of the nature of humanity because they have different authorities, ultimately themselves, on which to base this vision.
Ultimately, the libertarian philosophy can only lead to partisanship, and bitter at that. Any dissent is seen as illiberal or even more an actual attack on the rights of people to define their own meaning. Thus, we have legislation enacted because of the loudest or most popular opinion without actually thinking about said legislation. The government has become merely an arbiter of rights, deciding which person must bow to the other’s authority.This means that the authority granted to one person over the other is granted by an authority outside either of them, showing once again the self-contradiction of the libertarian philosophy.
When discussing liberty, we are bound to encounter that strange strand of political thought often called “libertarianism.” It is usually associated with the political right and the distrust of taxation and other government intervention into the economic realm. In reality, America has fostered an almost universal libertarian spirit and if we want to talk about wings of politics, both left and right have breathed it in.
Libertarianism could be thought of as “soft individualism.” It is not strict Randian Objectivism that exults in the pure expression of the individual will with no restrictions. Libertarians like to talk about rights and harm. As long as we are not harming someone else, we have a right to act in our interest; a sort of mutually agreed individualism that depends on social consensus.
But of course this where things get sticky because no one actually sees this through. Objectivism is a more consistent philosophy and thus much easier to oppose. Libertarianism, tainted as it is by the natural human tendency to believe in a universal moral/ethical code, is never pure. To be uncharacteristically pragmatic, pure libertarianism, pace Locke, just can’t work. We can not each have only our own interest in mind; we can’t each have our own morality or else there is no morality. Humans have an innate instinct for justice and without a universal code of conduct, there would be no justice, no accountability. Perhaps to a hardened objectivist, this is just something we have to accept. There is no crime if each person is supposed to follow his own will. In the end, the strong will survive and the weak will be overcome. Finally humanity will achieve perfection through strength.
Of course to most people besides eugenicists like Ayn Rand, Margaret Sanger, and Adolf Hitler, this view is abhorent; no less to libertarians. In order to avoid the objectivist mistake, libertarians decide to make distinctions: There are some areas in which a moral code is appropriate in order to make human society more humane. However, the other areas are to be left alone so that we can properly go about expressing our God-given liberty.
On the right, a moral code is imposed in the area of sexuality. The thinking is that as long people obey the rules about sex, all other things, especially economic considerations, will work themselves out. On the left, a moral code is imposed in the area of finance. Not all uses of money are equal and the government must regulate business so as to avoid corruption. However, we must let people have their liberty in the area of sexuality. At least these are the perceptions and they explain why there is such bitter partisanship in American politics.
These are the perceptions, but not the realities. As the inconsistencies of both “sides” are revealed to their adherents, they are soon abandoned to the universal American creed: consent. As long as two or more people who are legally able to consent consent to an activity, the activity is acceptable. With this creed comes convoluted and ever-changing rules about what indicates consent and who is legally able to consent. This libertarianism requires a universal code governing it so that we don’t slip into abusive individualism where coercion and might make right.
This is the great inconsistency in libertarian thinking. If we try to act as individuals for our own interests and seeking after happiness without interference, we will soon encounter people whether in opposition to our pursuits or else as potential cooperators for a mutual interest. The fact that we must deal with other humans means that we need a system of justice and accountability if we do not wish to go down the path of pure individualism. Thus, we get the strange and unsettling conflict at universities between freedom of personal expression and…freedom of personal expression. This culture of conflict is, in fact, unsustainable. One or the other “freedom” will be squashed in deference to the other, but instead of one side squashing the other, it is an authority, whether the government or the administration of a university, that must be utilized to enforce justice.
We can not escape from the fact that human justice is ultimately social and communal in nature. It demands that we care not just about ourselves but about how the actions of the members of the community affect the community and everyone in it. When we try to fight against this by embracing some sort of libertarian justice, we find ourselves unable to follow through.
Yet instead of turning toward a consistent moral justice that treats each human as a moral agent with social obligations and an eternal and spiritual purpose or toward pure individualism, we instead decide to wallow in our confusion and inconsistency. We think it will foster equality and freedom, but in fact it is deepening the divide between us and can only lead to violence and tyranny.
Liberty is highly praised in the United States (and indeed all over the Free West.) In some reckonings, it is second only to life. In others, it is the most important…thing.
What is Liberty precisely? It is not an action that we undertake, like pursuing happiness/property, nor is it something given or done to us, like material or spiritual goods. Liberty is a potential. It is a state of suspension between what we can do and what we do. Our abilities define our liberty and our liberty allows us to act on those abilities.
The question on my mind is this: Do we have a “right” to liberty and what does that mean?
First of all, as I’ve said, liberty is not an action, it is a state of potential action. How we proceed with that potential is a different thing entirely. Our wills may be free, but when we’ve chosen an action, we are no longer free with respect to that action. We can not both do and not do that action simultaneously. Thus, if we believe we have a right to do what we will, that is not a right to liberty, that is a right to act on our abilities, whatever they may be. Frank Castle, in Daredevil, was mighty good at killing people, but a right to liberty does not mean Frank Castle has a right to act on his ability.
Secondly, then, not all of our abilities are good (whatever metric of good you subscribe to. If you don’t subscribe to a metric of good, please disregard what I’m saying.) Therefore, although we have the liberty to act according to these abilities, that is a liberty that should not be nourished and should certainly not be enshrined as a right. Every day, across the country and around the world, people who might otherwise have certain abilities are prevented from acting on them either by physical confinement, social pressure, or material coercion. These people are not “at liberty” with respect to these abilities. When people use their liberty (their abilities) to act against the good, either their ability to do those things must be taken away or they must learn to control that ability within the confines of good action. Without these principles, our whole system of justice would fail and we would be unable to protect people against evil actions.
Thus, liberty is not an absolute right, but is subservient to the good. We may have the ability to do many things, but we do not have to right to do all those things, nor must we preserve unfettered all those abilities. Just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should. And maybe it’s even better not to be able to do some things. The risk may be too great.
These principles bring at least two questions to mind. The first is “what standard of good are we using? What is a virtuous action and what is not? Is there even such thing as a universal good?” As I said, no matter what metric of the good we are using, these principles still apply, but they are applied in different ways.
For an individualist, the highest good is the assertion of his or her will. This would seem to be liberty par excellence, being able and in fact encouraged to act on all of your abilities. To an individualist, however, a group does not have the authority to act against his abilities, although perhaps he might say that an individual does. In the former case, he believes that the group (which is really just a bunch of individuals agreeing to work together to him) should not be allowed to interfere with his liberty. But of course, all the other individuals have agreed to act in a certain way and are thus just fulfilling their own abilities (which of course can increase if they are working together.) This conflict of liberties (which is even more pointed when it is just two individuals in conflict) can only lead to violence as there is no common measure of resolution. The only way it can be resolved is by one convincing the other that his way is better or by one of them killing the other. Either way, it is an act against so-called liberty. In the former case, the one man agrees not to act on his ability because he has been convinced that it is bad. In the latter, he is dead.
Individualism, then, automatically leads to the strong acting on their abilities, and the weak agreeing to it out of fear of death. More often then not, individualism goes hand in hand with eugenics. It is better, it is said, to be rid of the weak who distract and weaken the strong from fulfilling their liberty.
Individualism, and what I might call creeping individualism does not properly understand liberty because it does not understand the good. However, it still inherently asserts that not all actions are equal and that not all abilities should be acted upon. Individualists just have a funny way of going about limiting liberty.
Which leads me to the second question about liberty: what is the proper way to limit liberty? In what circumstances should we take away people’s abilities and in what way? When should we use education to shape consciences and when should we use coercion and physical restraint? Once again, these questions are related to our metric of the good.
I am not here going to lay out an agenda or platform for a proper approach to criminal and moral justice here in the United States. I will say that in keeping with the Church’s insistence on subsidiarity and solidarity, the smallest competent social unit should be responsible for limiting and channeling liberty. It should ever take into consideration the emotional and spiritual situation of the person involved and should always start with the hope of the person achieving both earthly and heavenly happiness.
E. Milco has an insightful thought at The Paraphasic about the reality of conservative despair.
I made the point in my first post that we are all conservatives of something or another. We are all trying to preserve something. I asked what we are all trying to preserve. Now I’d like to ask why.
Are we trying to preserve a set of principles or social realities because they are comfortable and we feel unsafe without them? Are we trying to merely shore up our little bastion of intellectual security so that we can feel superior to those outside of the fold?
In architecture, there have been many forms of preservation of buildings and monuments. At certain times in history, existing buildings and monuments were often torn down to give way to newer and better buildings. This was especially true if there was a regime change or a city was conquered; each leader had his own vision for the city. It was a revolutionary way of doing architecture in that it was constantly changing and indeed developing.
Early Christianity made a habit of preserving existing buildings for their use. It may be that it was cheaper to do this as opposed to tearing down and building again, but in many cases it was based on the thought that existing structures can be reformed to support new forms, a sort of architectural “grace builds on nature.”
Throughout the Christian period, as wealth grew, more and more new buildings were built and eventually humanity reached a point at which they wished to “reach back” to old forms and resurrect them for a new age of humanity. This may seem like a strange reactionary progressivism, but as I said, we are all trying to conserve something. These progressive architects used antiquity as a cornerstone for their progressive movement and this was another form of preservation within a progressive agenda.
Eventually, however, progressivism led to radical progressivism that rejected even any sense of “preservation of forms” that had been present, an unmoored progressivism. Ironically, this era also saw the greatest “preservation movement” where old buildings that had been preserved because of the quality of construction or because they had been repurposed were now “protected” buildings.
While this is certainly a kind of “conservatism,” I believe it is related to Milco’s idea of conservative despair. These buildings are being preserved out of the fear of losing them. We were never afraid to lose the well-built everyday buildings in previous eras because we could always build more, and maybe even better. Now we despair of doing so, and I believe rightly so. We have lost much of the art of building that was once passed down from generation to generation, always developing, always secure. I believe this is also true of our social and political life.
Conservatives have become fearful of losing any sort of structural norms and identities which once tied together society because of a so-called “progressive” agenda. This leads them to enshrine certain ideals and structures as “inviolable” and in doing so, lead to their petrification. This is what happens when buildings, and ideas, are merely preserved and not used. They become more a burden than anything, and despite our best efforts begin to decay. We can not bury our cultural possessions like the foolish servant in the gospel and expect to make any return on them.
The early Christians had it right, and in fact, as Milco says, Christianity has never been a religion or a way of life that is static. In order to keep the buildings of the rotted Roman Empire, they did not just make them into museums that needed a yearly maintenance budget. They used them in new ways so they would not fall into disrepair. But, they did not just attach the new to the old as many modern museums do in adding wings to existing older structures. They did not act against the integrity of the building. And most of all, they did not keep all structures. Some were too old, some were associated with too much evil. Some things need to be replaced.
But now we get to the meat of it all again. What does need to be replaced, and what needs to be used in new ways if we are to conserve a good social ethic and a proper political arrangement not as a dead letter to be admired, but as a living developing, indeed progressing thing? The Christian does not fear the past but nor does he fear the future because his grounding in the life and teaching of Christ is so sure that it can be “ever-new.” What the Christian, and I’d dare say everyone else, must fear is stasis. Milco, in his post, mentions “Acedia’s plea” to be left alone. This is the danger of despairing conservatism, that it wants to be left alone in order to preserve something. That is a sure way to kill whatever is being preserved.
Abandoned buildings collapse, libertarian and individualist conservatism is self-defeating because it is self-absorbed. Radical conservatism is rooted conservatism which is firmly planted in a place of nourishment, but because of this and the light and refreshment it receives from venturing outside, it grows and does not stay underground. This growth allows it to be even more open to the light and thus will continue to grow. Yes, we are in danger of being uprooted if we let our growth run wild, but is not the greater danger staying in the dark out of fear until we grow weary of life?
This is not the life of a Christian and it is certainly not the foundation for any sort of social order. We need lively growth from new ideas and old ideas reconsidered, never forgetting what needs to be preserved and what needs to be disposed of and why.
Οικονομια (oikonomia) is a Greek word meaning “the rule of a household.” This referred first and foremost to the management of the wealth and property of a ancient Greek family. This is where we get the word “economy.”
Of course, it did not stop there, for it is not only families that have wealth and property; states do as well. If a state is ruled by a monarch, the royal treasury belongs to the king and his family, as does the responsibility to care for the needs of the people from said treasury. In modern nation-states where the government is typically representative, the treasury does not belong to one man and his family, but to all families within the state, though it is only through representatives that these families exercise their responsibility to the needs of the people.
Every nation has an economy bolstered by production and trade. The labour of the people is the backbone of the economy for as we know, where there is no work, there is entropy. However, modern times have seen economies that use speculation, printing of money, and bureaucratic services to make the money move (which is apparently the sign of a healthy economy.) However, not even these economies can escape the unavoidable dependence on labour and production.
As technology develops and global connectivity grows, the markets, both labour and speculative, grow too. No longer are the major speculators and major corporations dependent on local production and trade because global communication and transportation has made it possible to find labour anywhere and move products and communicate services over vast distances.
We have all experienced this. We would generally, however, prefer to talk to those offering services to us in person and know who it is who is working for us and that they are not being treated badly. We would also prefer to work close to home ourselves and not have to uproot our families and move because our employer has decided to move. However, we don’t always get what we want.
This open, constantly moving economy has consequences. The idea is that a larger economy will result in more available wealth to be moved around. And of course it does, but it also means that that wealth can be moved almost anywhere in the world with no major loss. If the wealth of our family is tied to a job dependent on a state and national economy that answers to national and international corporations, those corporations are essentially in charge of the treasury of nation and state and are therefore responsible for the people. However, these corporations can find labour and conduct services anywhere and are not dependent on local markets for clientele. This means that the providers of services and products have no incentive to stay in one place or another. Because of this, they hold the people hostage insofar as they have the power to threaten evacuation for any reason.
Recently, we have seen major corporations, providers of jobs and services, threaten to boycott states (and thus to dramatically damage their economies) because of social and political values held by the people of the state. The ability of the people to maintain traditions, customs, and values is compromised by their dependence on a fickle and disinterested master. Globalization has taken proper political and social agency from the members of communities and given it to a small group of men and women disconnected from any of the communities they supposedly serve.
Not only is this completely antithetical to the idea of popular sovereignty so dear to the American people, more importantly it is anti-human. If our political and social agency is taken away, our participation in truly human flourishing is diminished. This can only result in tyranny and abuse. A diminished humanity is just one step toward dehumanization and ultimately dehumanization leads to slavery, torture, and death.
When, however, the providers of labour and services are local and production serves local needs first, our values and traditions are developed and maintained, unhindered by fear of outside reprisal and the threat of dehumanization. Our economies should truly be “rule of a household” with all the responsibility that entails.
In the previous iteration of this blog, updated last more than two years ago, I asserted that we are all Liberals in America. In fact, that’s true. What’s even more alarming is that we are all conservatives. Each of us, even the most ardent of progressives and radicals, look back longingly, even if just to the last election cycle, for something to preserve about our lives. No one unmoors himself completely from history.
What each of us is trying to conserve is the operative question. Some long for the days of optimistic progressivism symbolized by the Obama campaign. Some long for the prosperous 90s, marred only by irrelevant personal scandals. Some long for the days before Facebook, Youtube, the Internet, cell phones. Some long for the spirited age of the civil rights movement. Some long for the Old South. Some long for the days when the original liberal spirit enlivened the American people and compelled them to break with their brothers across the sea and embark on an Adventure about which we have not heard the end, though it may come soon.
Just as we are all liberals in America because of this philosophical and political patrimony, our conservatism is a particularly limited one, indeed a particularly progressive conservatism. Americans tend to think back to our Founders (always capitalized) and ascribe to them both political genius and moral strength. So much so that any political theory, social order, or religious philosophy that came before is immediately suspect. Monarchies are oppressive and unjust, nobility is a construct that must be torn down, the people are no longer chattel slaves but have finally come into their own as their own sovereigns. We in America have been given, finally, the system to end all systems. In point of fact, it will probably end itself.
This limited conservatism, and any conservatism that sees some point of of human development as a point of departure from all of human thought and culture before it, will very likely squeeze the life out of our brittle society. We do not have a broad conservatism because we do not truly believe in the value of history. We only see it as a warning about what we might become. We do not have a deep conservatism because we do not truly believe in the foundations of society and culture. We are always asking ourselves to remake everything. We do not have a strong conservatism because we do not believe in any binding truths and realities. Instead, we depend on a scientific system based on skepticism to show us what is true and what is false.
We must look to something much older, much more enduring than America if we are to have a more radical conservatism. Our beliefs must be based on something more universal than the philosophy of the enlightenment that sought to break itself from history. If we are to be truly human conservatives, we must know what it is to be human. This means knowing our history and being able to recognize the good and the true in all eras and in all systems. But most of all, we must have something or someone to tell us what it means to be human and what all of this means. Without that, we are left with our present faults and shortcomings on which to depend, and this is a liberalism that is tyrannical.
What is true liberty, equality, and fraternity? We fear to explore that question further than our narrow liberalism teaches because we would find that the answer would be demanding. We might have to step outside of the comfort of our rights and privileges. We might have to respond to our obligations. Not obligations based on mere human contract, contingent and fleeting, but obligations based on the demands of our human nature. A radical conservatism seeks to conserve whatever is good and true, despite the cost.
Liberalism both classical and progressive can not give a proper account of human nature and thus can not truly promote human flourishing toward a common good. Only one way of life has given a comprehensive and enduring account of the human condition and human history and that is the Christian Faith. Without an acknowledgement of God’s part in history, our politics are limited in addressing the full need of the human race. The temporal good — living a happy and fulfilled life — is ordered toward a spiritual good, eternal bliss. Without this, our idea of the temporal good will skew toward the utilitarian and the materialistic, where humans are seen as dispensable, useful tools toward an abstract good.
The good of humans is not abstract, but is the fulfillment of all of our needs, both physical and spiritual. Our society should be concerned with this, first and foremost, and it should be the foundation of our policy, our social action, and our own individual lives. Our conservatism should be about conserving all that aids in the flourishing of each and every person. Any conservatism that breaks from this will fall into violence, as man is pitted against woman, child against mother, rich against poor.
Man was made to cooperate for survival, not compete. The divisions sewn by our liberal conservatism work against our human nature and create an inhuman politics. Is it any wonder that all of our main candidates for president support the mass murder of children and civilians or the destruction of peoples?
Let us look to God so that in our theology, we may better understand ourselves and so better serve each other toward our common good. This faith in God is the ultimate conservatism, depending not on the passing and temporal but on the eternal, preserving our link to the Author of Life who sustains our lives, our families, our nations, our world. This is true conservatism and in it we can find true liberty.