The View From 1776

§ American Traditions

§ People and Ideas

§ Decline of Western Civilization: a Snapshot

§ Books to Read


Liberal_Jihad_Cover.jpg Forward USA

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Continuing the Dialog

More thoughts about Adam Smith vs. Robert Reich.

The reader who most recently raised questions about the views expressed in Adam Smith vs. Robert Reich has some more good questions:

Comment:  Thank you for your reply. I had to take a more objective look at what you are attempting to say. What I am hearing is that Christian doctrine in accordance with capitalistic pursuits maximizes to a greater effect the economic liberty for an individual. Is this correct?

(My reply:  That’s not exactly what I aimed to say.  Chalk it up to lack of precision on my part. 

The opening sentence in the article referred to maximizing both economic and social welfare. 

Liberalism, as understood by John Locke, Adam Smith, and Edmund Burke, was literally maximum possible individual political liberty.  Inasmuch as the central focus of English political liberty was limitation upon the sovereign’s asserted unilateral prerogative to tax, seize property, and compel loans from private individuals, liberalism became closely identified with laissez-faire economics.

I intended to temper this economic emphasis by asserting that maximizing both economic and social welfare requires a counterbalancing impulse from Judeo-Christian morality.  This was near and dear to Adam Smith’s heart, because he was a teacher of moral philosophy.  Smith, for example, noted that, as soon as a few businessmen get together, they tend toward agreements to fix prices.  The idea of fairness and honesty has to come from Judeo-Christian morality and the sentiment of benevolence.)

Comment:  But I am still conflicted when I try to reconcile the pursuit of personal wealth or property with the compassionate teachings of Christ. Are we still pursuing a need to acquire property or are we merely in search of a humble life where we are wont to the everyday things we need in order to support a happy healthy family?

(My reply:  Contrary to popular conception, Christianity doesn’t say people must be poor.  The Beatitudes of Christ’s Sermon on the Mount just say that even the humblest of persons is equal in God’s eye to the richest and most powerful, if both have the spirit of Christian love in their hearts. 

Jesus said that we are not to be preoccupied with getting our daily bread, clothing and shelter, saying that God will provide what we need, just as he adorns the lilies of the field.  But Jesus also commended the servant who works faithfully to add to his master’s wealth.  The sin is worshipping mammon and excluding Christian love from the heart, laying up treasures on earth without laying up treasures in heaven.)

Comment:  It always seemed to me that Christianity preached ?brotherhood?. Perhaps this is merely an instance where personal backgrounds give different meanings to what we assume is the same thing to the other when it is not. If that is the case, then there needs to be some common ground for us to work from in order to help each of us understand the other.

(My reply:  Christian brotherhood means, to me, not to disrespect anyone, but to look upon all people as children of God.  Christians may condemn wrong conduct, but God alone can judge the heart, and therefore the worth, of any individual.  Christian brotherhood also means what used to be called charity, wanting to help all people in sorrow, pain, illness, and economic misfortune.

The division between the Judeo-Christian conception of charity and that of the modern-day liberal, secular, and materialistic state is that, in the one, each individual must strive to do the right thing qua individual, whereas, in the other, it is the political state that is to regularize and structuralize charitable impulses. 

More importantly, the Judeo-Christian tradition teaches that, while the poor always will be with us, we have a duty to help them.  Present-day secular liberalism teaches that the root of all society’s ills is unequal distribution of income and property, therefore it is the collectivized power of the political state to force redistribution of property whence comes our salvation.

Brotherhood, in the Judeo-Christian tradition must come from the individual heart.  Brotherhood, in the present-day liberal doctrine, is Karl Marx’s, “Workers of the world unite!”, i.e., a purely secular and materialistic concept.)

Visit MoveOff Network Members