Showing posts with label Oikonomika. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Oikonomika. Show all posts

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Hypocritical American Ideals

In his book, A Free People's Suicide: Sustainable Freedom and the American Future, Os Guinness concludes his thoughts about America under judgment:
   As I said and will say again, America stands before the world today under the judgment of her own ideals. Again and again it is Montesquieu and Madison, rather than Marx and Muhammad, whose principles boomerang back on America in world reactions to America's superpower actions. As I have heard argued by foreign admirers of the U.S. Constitution at universities in Europe, Asia and the Middle East, it is hypocritical for Americans to pride themselves on checks and balances at home but to ride roughshod over international opinion, institutions, laws and other checks and balances abroad, or to talk of free-market capitalism and impose it on others in a coerced, lopsided manner favorable only to American corporations and investors.

   ...Ironically, American liberals and radicals who attack American aggression abroad often espouse the same negative view of freedom at home that they deplore abroad. In fact, what unites an otherwise disparate group that would include most liberals, almost all libertarians and most postmodern radicals is that freedom is largely a question of escaping the power of others over them. It is all about dismantling the structures of oppression and liberating the victim. 
  ...But then we are back to the core conundrum of freedom. Freedom requires a framework of order, which means restraint, yet the only restraint proper to freedom is self-restraint, which freedom undermines. 
   Whatever positions we take on such issues, these old debates about freedom are a valuable corrective to naivety and utopianism. The passion for freedom is simple and strong, but freedom itself is subtle, complex and demanding. Its defense is never simple and easy, never a matter of arms alone. While the world still turns and the boot of the powerful still grinds into the faces of the weak and poor, the human cry for freedom will never be silenced and the bell of freedom will always ring out along with the cries of suffering and anger. 
   Equally, cries for justice and for order will always blend with cries for freedom, and it will always be harder to be free than not to be free. Freedom's work is never alone and never done, which is why the founders' confidence in the prospect of a freedom that could remain free forever is so audacious and so deserving of greater attention than it is given by a free people grown complacent through the privileges of freedom.1

1.  Os Guinness, A Free People's Suicide: Sustainable Freedom and the American Future [Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press; 2012] pp. 67-68

Two Concepts of Liberty

Commenting on Isaiah Berlin's four famous essays on liberty, but particularly his 1958 lecture titled "Two Concepts of Liberty," Os Guinness makes a few interesting observations:

Negative freedom, as Berlin defines it, is freedom from--in essence, freedom from interference and constraint. Positive freedom is freedom for--in essence, freedom for excellence according to whatever vision and ideals define that excellence. 
...[I]n reality the choice between the two freedoms in never either/or. Negative and positive freedoms can be distinguished in theory, but if true freedom is to flourish, they must never be divorced in practice. Indeed, one of the most difficult challenges of the modern world is to create societies that allow diverse faiths and ideologies to have the maximum of both positive and negative freedoms for each faith and ideology. No nation has so far achieved full success in this test, though some have done better than others.  
For one thing, neither positive nor negative freedom is complete without the other. They each describe complementary sides of the same full freedom, which always rests on two conditions: the complete absence of any abuse of power, which is the essence of positive freedom. In a free society understood in this way, free citizens are neither prevented from doing what they should (the denial of positive freedom) no forced to do what they shouldn't (the denial of negative freedom).1

1.  Os Guinness, A Free People's Suicide: Sustainable Freedom and the American Future [Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press; 2012] pp. 61-61

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

McDurmon on "Markets"

Joel McDurmon, author of The Bible and War in America and Biblical Logic: In Theory and Practice, has recently released another comprehensive, easy-to-digest strategy for implementing a Biblical worldview. The title and purpose of this unique book is self-explanatory, and is called Restoring America One County at a Time. Here McDurmon presents a thorough and thoughtful treatise which, as the back cover reveals, focuses "on practical steps, local solutions, personal sacrifice, and a multi-generational vision." So far I have devoured 244 pages of this 400-plus page book, and when I finally finished his chapter on "Markets" I couldn't help but quote a lengthy excerpt from it because I found it to be somewhat of a missing link among arguments presented by critics and advocates of modern-day "Capitalism."

McDurmon is one of those authors that you either love or hate. He's either loved or hated because he writes in such a logical, biblical manner that the reader knows his overall argument is either absolutely right or dead wrong. There isn't much wiggle room for neutrality. He will challenge your presuppositions about education, welfare, local government, state government, taxation, money and banking, "free" markets, court systems, foreign and domestic war, the military, and executive power. And yet, he doesn't do so like a bull in a china shop, leaving you with an overwhelming mess of worldview-pieces to pick up on your own. In this book he actually provides a step-by-step program for reform that can and will work if implemented with thoughtfulness and consideration of what's really going on in the world around us.

This brings me to the lengthy quote I mentioned before, which I would like to post below. The post below is stripped from 232 pages of previous context, and so I don't expect the entirety of it to sink in to every reader. But it is explicit enough to demonstrate a fascinating misunderstanding among "liberals" and "conservatives" today who have some opinion about the "free" market. When discussing the history of big "conservative" business at the turn of the 19th-20th century, McDurmon notes:
    The Big financiers -- J. P. Morgan & Co., etc. -- would not give up their quests for total domination simply because they could not win fairly in a free marketplace. They had no qualms at all about turning to government intervention and regulation. Thus, in the period immediately following the failed merger movement -- the beginning of the twentieth century -- we saw a rise in Progressive government domination. Indeed, "The dominant fact of American Political life at the beginning of this century [20th] was that big business led the struggle for the federal regulation of the economy."1 So we return to our earlier statement about covetousness and greed armed with the guns of government. Big business interests simply have used the government coercion as a means of gaining a market advantage forcing out smaller competitors.
    And the big business was not shy about admitting their agenda clearly. For example, J. P. Morgan owned the agricultural machine company International Harvester. After Teddy Roosevelt established the Bureau of Corporations -- designed allegedly to investigate and expose any monopolistic powers on the part of big corporations -- IH came under suspicion and an investigation was ordered. The matter was a joke, for IH already had a back-room deal with the administration that an informal warning would give time to correct any "illegal" activity in the meantime. Indeed, IH's lawyer told the administration that the company welcomed exposure showing actual losses on the Company's behalf, "for then they would have just ground for raising American prices."2  The Company was quite serious, and it raised prices with sanction from the Federal Bureau's reports "to prevent attacks from less friendly parties, and as a general shield."3
     Noticeable also in this respect were the massive railroad companies. Not only had they used "federal and local governments for subsidies and land grants" from early on, but "railroads themselves had been the leading advocates of extended federal legislation after 1887."4 Indeed, the railroads wanted to use Federal authority to guarantee their pooling agreements and thus free them from the disruptive pressures and temptations of the market.5
    What has been said so far is a large part of the reason it is such a joke when modern leftists rail against free market principles as the historical cause of inequality, class warfare, and all our economic woes. There has been very little "free market" to begin with; this country hasn't had free markets very often at all, historically speaking. And the "capitalism" of the big bank-government collusion that we have today is hardly free-market capitalism. It's rigged state capitalism, which is to say it's socialistic to a large degree.

And then, a few paragraphs later, McDurmon begins a ten-page long explanation of how to put "free" back into free markets. I really admire his pastoral candidness in the opening words of this section. He writes:
If the road to hell is paved with good intentions, the road to freedom is rocky, uphill, and lined with thieves lying in wait. The path to restore freedom in markets and even to arrive at a totally free marketplace is the straight and narrow way indeed. Traveling it to its end will require personal integrity, fortitude, sacrifice, patience, and endurance. It will require these qualities in society -- not just a few scattered individuals.
In simple terms, the road to free markets requires a personal and society-wide return to the principles that headed up this chapter: non-violence to a person's life or private property and enforcement of contracts. We must personally embrace these principles, and structure our lives, work, and businesses accordingly. More importantly, we have to maintain this discipline: we must absolutely refuse to depart from God's laws even when it is more profitable, more convenient, and more socially acceptable to do so. We won't have a moral leg to stand on until we practice fiscal integrity ourselves. We can't demand of society what we are unwilling to abide by ourselves. The model here is the Messiah, of whom David said in Psalm 15: 
                              O Lord, who shall sojourn in your tent?
                              Who shall dwell on your holy hill?
                              He who walks blamelessly and does what is right
                              and speaks truth in his heart;
                              who does not slander with his tongue
                              and does no evil to his neighbor,
                              nor takes up a reproach against his friend;
                              in whose eyes a vile person is despised,
                              but who honors those who fear the Lord;
                              who swears to his own hurt and does not change;
                              who does not put out his money at interest
                              and does not take a bribe against the innocent.
                              He who does these things shall never be moved.6

1  Cited from Kolko, Triumph of Conservatism, 57-58
2.  Ibid., 119-120
3.  Ibid., 120
4.  Ibid. 59
5.  Cited from Stephen Skowronek, Building a new American State: The Expansion of National Administrative Capacities, 1877-1920 (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1982), 129.
6. Joel McDurmon, Restoring America One County at a Time: How Our Freedom Was Lost And How We Get It Back (Powder Springs, GA: The American Vision Inc.,  2012), pp. 232-235

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Humanitarianism and Resentment

In his book Idols for Destruction: The Conflict of Christian Faith and American Culture, Herbert Schlossberg argues that "if humanism is the theological arm of the Religion of Humanity, the ethical arm is humanitarianism"1 (emphasis mine). According to Schlossberg, humanitarianism's praise of the lower class in America has been so enthusiastic that it has effectively produced the "divinization of the poor"2 and a distinctive form of idolatry: resentment
Schlossberg writes:
When Judas criticized the use of expensive ointment to anoint Jesus, it was ostensibly due to his concern for the poor (John 15:5f.).  In general this phenomenon praises the worthiness of what is unsuccessful or debased while expressing contempt for the exceptional and successful. Along with the exaltation of the poor comes the abasement of the middle class... Thus the poor are foils through whom resentment can strike at the successful while hiding its evil intentions under a mask of goodwill. A common humanitarian complaint is that the poor are not sufficiently interested in their own welfare, making it necessary for the humanitarian gospel to be preached among them... 
The dual effort to raise the lower classes and debase the higher has long been called "leveling," and in recent years has grown into the movement with the awkward name of equalitarianism (often used in the French form, egalitarianism). Equality in its original meaning in the United States required that immutable privileges of birth and position be uprooted from the new nation. There was no longer to be king or nobility; hereditary offices were abolished, and people were to reach whatever station in life their qualities and their efforts earned for them... 
As society erases social distinctions and moves toward a leveling... the demand for equality is not satisfied, but intensified. People do not envy a Rockefeller his millions as much as they envy their neighbor a ten percent differential in income. All inequalities, monetary or otherwise, are more galling to the envious when they are nearby, when the advantage is held by those whom one knows and when it is seen daily. The leveling movement has nothing to do with justice, because its impulse is not to raise those who are down but to topple those who are up; resentment is the motive.3

Is it true that, generally speaking, Americans have divinized the poor in this sense?

And if true, how many Christians have unknowingly imbibed these secular ideals, thereby fueling further resentment?

1.  Herbert Schlossberg, Idols for Destruction: The Conflict of Christian Faith and American Culture [Crossway Books: Wheaton, IL; 1990] p. 50
2.  Ibid., p. 54
3.  Ibid., pp. 54-55

Monday, September 24, 2012

None has clean hands

As I was researching some commentaries regarding Jesus' Sermon on the Mount and the subject of mammon (an Aramaic word which Jesus used to describe material possessions), I came across some interesting comments by Herbert Schlossberg. In his book, Idols for Destruction: The Conflict of Christian Faith and American Culture, Schlossberg spends an entire chapter discussing "Idols of Mammon", and I thought his insights about its destructive pathologies shed a lot of light upon a number of concerns I have with America's moral decline. He writes:
When Jesus told his disciples they could not serve both God and mammon, the reason he gave was that the two were rival loyalties and that if one were loved the other would be despised (Matt. 6:24). This admonition came in the midst of a portion of the Sermon on the Mount that warned against the preoccupation with wealth and material possessions...  Instead, the disciples [of Jesus] were to seek the kingdom of God first... The mammon described here as the rival of God, therefore, is the idolatrous elevation of money and the material possessions it will buy...  Like idolatries, it finds ultimate meaning in an aspect of creation rather than in the creator. And like all idolatries it finds outlet in destructive pathologies that wreck human lives. 
Those pathologies cannot simply be subsumed under such labels as liberal, conservative, or radical. The ideologies common to American politics all have a share in them; none has clean hands...  If that contention seems odd, it is only because political rhetoric, the media, and the educational establishment have badly distorted the political and economic landscape, making it appear that the only alternatives to liberal idols are conservative idols. 
Those whose loyalty is to mammon quite naturally cast anxious eyes on the property belonging to others, and that is why the apostle called covetousness a form of idolatry (Col. 3:5; Eph. 5:5)... It often accompanies envy, which is a discontent at or resentment of another's good fortune. Envy precedes covetousness and is itself the object of sever biblical censure. The chief priests demanded that Jesus be condemned because they were envious of him (Mark 15:10). In the long list of wicked acts by which Paul described the conduct of the reprobate, envy comes directly before murder (Rom. 1:29)...  
On the other hand envy may act in a more straightforward, less devious, way by simply striving to take what it desires from those it envies. In most cases, this action is associated with the idolatry of mammon, and it accomplishes its end by practicing one of many forms of theft. That is why the command "You shall not steal" (Ex. 20:15) is not only an ethical injunction but also a warning against practicing the idolatry of mammon.1

Outright stealing is widely recognized as an expression of idolizing mammon. But aren't there other ways -- less obvious ways -- to accomplish the same thing?

What about political programs which monopolize your capital investment and redistribute to others without your approval or sanction? Is that not legalized theft?

What about the continual debasement of "money" and its purchasing power through inflationary policies? Is that not another direct product of the idolatry of mammon?

1.  Herbert Schlossberg, Idols for Destruction: The Conflict of Christian Faith and American Culture [Crossway Books: Wheaton, IL. 1990] pp. 88-89