Friday, July 30, 2010

Catholicism vs Conservatism: Who Can Save Freedom and Capitalism? (Part II)

As the dignity and salvation of the soul is the foundation from which freedom can be realized in society, historically, faith in Divine Providence provided the rational basis for capitalism. The invention and development of capitalism, for instance, takes its origin from within monasticism in the ninth century and later practiced on a wider scale during the Renaissance in Italy. Rodney Stark, author of The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success, said that capitalism was developed by "Catholic monks who, despite having put aside worldly things, were seeking to ensure the economic security of their monastic estates..."

There is also a theological underpinning to capitalism. In the Imitation of Christ, Thomas Kempis says that there is not a leaf that falls from a tree without God's permission. An omnipotent God who governs every last atom of the universe- a universe endowed with order and beauty -can also ordain the free actions of every human being towards a useful and happy end for the benefit of humanity. This is certainly true when applied to the economy. It is this belief in Divine Providence that renders central planning by the State unnecessary.

God has so endowed each human being with talents and career aspirations that when each person is allowed to act on these God-given gifts, their work contributes to the well being of society. One person's work is like one very important piece to the puzzle which contributes to a beautiful picture when all the pieces are in place. This is why free enterprise has produced such untold prosperity and progress. Whether spoken or not, capitalism presupposes that each person's career and economic choices contributes, as if by design, to a robust economy.

This is why fiscal conservatism alone cannot save the free market. It may convey economic truth, but it does not inspire courage to endure short term sacrifices for long term gain, nor does it affect the whole spectrum of life like the Catholic Faith does. When, in the absence of faith, people see the world as being riddled with random forces devoid of meaning, it is but a natural response to flee from the risks and uncertainties that freedom poses. Instead people will naturally take refuge in the so-called security the State pretends to offer; that is, the illusory security from the unpredictable results of a free market. Eliminating risk in the market, fearing the consequences of failed corporations, decreeing a moratorium on oil drilling and capping C.E.O's salaries are recent examples through which the State alleges to protect citizens. Unfortunately, people from Wall Street to Main Street have capitulated to to these tactics.

A personal faith in Divine Providence- a kind of "intelligent design" of human interactions and transactions -is more than just a political or economic ideology; rather, it translates into a lifestyle and a worldview. Fiscal conservatism may be a portion of one's world view but it certainly does not provide the day to day strength and guidance that our faith in Christ does. As Christians we believe that all things work together for the good for those who love Jesus Christ. Does this not include our own economic choices? And do not the principles of free enterprise and capitalism presuppose that one or two-hundred million individual career and business choices will contribute to a prosperous economy? There is an unspoken faith that underlies this. It should not be unspoken anymore.

I am afraid that without this daily, living faith, capitalism will become more unintelligible with each younger generation. They will not appreciate the value of risk, sacrifice, or even failure in the absence of faith. The promise by the State to harness or control millions of "risky" economic decisions is seductive to the unbeliever and to the sub-religious. To be sure, fiscal conservative principles cannot compensate for the fears of insecurity that unbelief inevitably produces among the masses. People will either have to believe in an all-powerful God whose wise providence makes everything work together for the good of society, or they will to place a servile trust in an all-powerful State to manage the world they fear.

The preaching of the Gospel by Bishops and monastic orders long ago provided the spiritual and intellectual environment from which freedom and capitalism originated. To recover them, the same means must be used.

Catholics should pay their respects to conservative think tanks and commentators for the contribution they have made. But again, to recover freedom and capitalism we must go beyond fiscal conservatism and look to the Gospel for the answer.

With Bishops leading the way, the Church will have to embark on the New Evangelization with a sense of urgency. People need to once again believe in Divine Providence to makes sense of the uncertainties of life. If Christians fail to inspire this belief among tbe people, a greater reliance on central planning by the State will be the alternative to a daily, living faith in Divine Providence; a faith which makes freedom and initiative a practical, everyday reality.