The Captive Scotsman and the Captive Welshman
The recent controversy between the Scottish Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, and the Welsh Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has brought into focus the significance of the present economic crisis. On the one hand, the Archbishop has said that piling on ever more debt, the Keynesian policy of Gordon Brown, is dangerous. On the other hand, the Prime Minister, the son of a Scottish Protestant minister, says that he is only helping those who have been hurt by the economic crisis, like the Good Samaritan.
In reality, we would suggest that both the Lutheran Archbishop and the Calvinist Prime Minister are victims of the same Protestant ideology. There is little doubt among historians such as Max Weber and R.H. Tawney that Protestant ideology is at the root of modern Capitalism. With its individualist Capitalist work ethic, the idolatry of work and activism, workaholism, there was revealed homo economicus. Little wonder that the greatest Capitalist powers, the USA, Great Britain, Holland and Switzerland were once all bastions of Protestantism.
In the twentieth century, with its almost total loss of faith, the three ideologies which developed out of the Protestant mentality competed for power, that is, for control of the means of Capitalist production. First, there was internationalist Communism, which set up its Third International in what had been for centuries the Third Rome, Moscow. Then there was nationalist Fascism, which set up its centres in nationalist Western Europe, most successfully in Berlin. Both were merely forms of State Capitalism. Fascism died first, only to be followed by Communism.
The third ideology, which was triumphant, was the ultimate individualist form of the materialist ideology of Protestantism, bypassing State control. This was liberal or free market Capitalism, which evolved the most not in Continental Europe, but first in offshore Great Britain and then in the English-speaking USA, which geared itself for life, liberty and the pursuit of the dollar. In recent years this apparently triumphant free market Capitalism or liberalism, has attempted to become global. This movement towards globalism has been very successful – but at what cost?
Free market Capitalism, or liberalism, is based on the development of the individual, individualism. Its success has therefore come at the price of all collective forms of human activity. Thus, all ‘advanced’ forms of Capitalist society with their stress on individual ‘fulfilment’, have experienced the breakdown of the family, with rocketing divorce rates, broken homes, delinquency, drug-taking, sky-high crime and overcrowded prisons.
And since the family is, as the cliché goes, the building block of society, so Capitalism has also brought social breakdown, fracture and collapse. ‘Broken Britain’ is what the local media call it. As Mrs Thatcher, the advocate of ‘monetarism’ (the individual’s idolatry of money, or, in the words of the Gospel, mammon), who was also the great admirer of the tyrant Cromwell, who invented the national debt in order to finance his massacres), said: ‘There is no such thing as society’.
However, international Capitalism, called globalism, also destroys even larger-scale forms of collective identity, not just families and societies, but also nations. As the Scotsman Adam Smith said, the homeland of the Capitalist is wherever there is money to be made. The end of the nation state, of national identities, is what lies behind collectivities such as the United Nations or the European Union, or United States of Europe, as it is also called. Concepts of homeland, sovereignty and patriotism are foreign to such organisations. To make everywhere the same, to be homogeneous, to destroy local particularities, this is the aim of such organisations.
With the destruction of families, societies and nations, as a result of the placing of individual consumption and individual rights, the bubble of egoism, above all else, comes the destruction of all moral and spiritual values. This is why ‘advanced’ Capitalist societies have invested so heavily in the idolatry of political correctness, the culture of ‘human rights’ and lawsuits against others for the infringements of such rights.
The destruction of the concept of sin can clearly be seen in the new sexual ‘morality’ in ‘advanced’ Capitalist societies, where most children are born outside marriage, the words ‘husband’ and wife’ have been replaced by ‘partners’ and indeed the term ‘marriage’ itself no longer means a man and a woman living together and creating a family, but may merely indicate a casual heterosexual or homosexual relationship.
Thus, in a Church sermon in the 1980s the monetarist free marketeer, Margaret Thatcher (the Anglican Church allows such people to preach sermons), stated that the greatest sin was ‘inflation’. This extraordinary claim signified that ‘monetary sin’ was in her eyes far more important than sins such as pride, selfishness or covetousness and plainly contradict the statement by the Apostle Paul that ’the love of money is the root of all evil’ (1 Tim. 6, 10). In the light of such statements and realities, it is clear that free market Capitalism allows the victory of individualist consumer egoism.
The worship of consumerism, with its secular commercial temples, aisles and check-out communion is the worship of personal pleasure, of hedonism. It has made Christmas, for example, into Mammonmas, despite the Gospel injunction that we cannot serve God and mammon (money) (Matt. 6, 24). This whole system is financed by debt, camouflaged under the name of ‘credit’, which word actually mean ‘faith’. And the saints of this new faith work in stock exchanges and banks. In this new faith in ‘credit’, the greatest sin is the inability to pay and the punishment for this is to be cast out into the outer darkness of bankruptcy. For human-beings (and whole countries) are now valued by how much they can earn, which defines their ‘creditworthiness’. The only sins now are economic and financial, as are the only wars.
Now that the idols of the stock exchanges have fallen and the banks have gone bankrupt, liberal Capitalist States with their once free market ideology have had recourse to subsidising and nationalising banks and a whole raft of companies. All of these sell expensive products like property and cars, which are dependent on ‘credit’ to make sales. Thus, ironically, free marketeers have switched sides to State control, to some extent adopting the failed ideologies of Fascism and Communism. There is no solution here. These totalitarian systems have already failed forever.
There is a solution, but it is in real faith, not in ‘credit’. It is in something higher than the individual. It is in the family, in society, in the nation, in collective but also voluntary (not totalitarian) forms of human identity. It is only in the restoration of these institutions, the family, society, the nation, that the world can find solutions, ways out of the present crisis.
But in order for these institutions to live again, it will require the self-sacrifice of individual ‘rights’ and consumerist pleasures. These sacrifices are ascetic in nature and they can only be accepted through accepting the source of ascetic life in the old Church Tradition. And both the Lutheran Archbishop and the Calvinist Prime Minister are some long way from that, for they are both held captive by the Protestant ideology. And it is that which lies at the root of Capitalist individualism, free market consumerism and the present spiritual, and therefore moral, and therefore economic, crisis.
Archpriest Andrew Phillips
6/19 December 2008