In his reflection on Michael Novak’s 1980’s The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism, in the October issue of First Things, R.R. Reno recalls the three mutually-supporting legs upon which Novak held Western culture to stand, but argues that culture no longer supports these legs.  The first two legs–a free economy and liberal democratic political institutions are especially mutually supporting, in that both seek to limit the power of the state, thereby liberating “…the energies of individuals and independently organized communities.”  The third, a Judeo-Christian moral ecology is also reinforcing, in that it “…prizes human dignity, and encourages self-discipline, social trust, and individual initiative,” with both religions based on “Greco-Roman philosophy, law, and civic management.” 

But, Reno argues that the mutual support of these the three legs critically depended upon an historical epoch that may now be passing away.  Ironically, that is the era of the less constrained and unitary 1960s, for which Novak believed “liberation from constraint,” represented spiritual liberation.  Spontaneity and creativity were characteristics of that era.

Reno believes that globalization has weakened the spontaneity and creativity that sprang from “…a multiplicity of motives, incentives, presuppositions, and purposes.”  A free market society provided “order without authority and purposeful freedom without the need for agreement about the common good, beyond the procedural rule of law.”  By contributing to globalization, however, that “birth of freedom” of the 1960s has come to undermine both democratic institutions and a Judeo-Christian moral culture.  In a way, freedom has come to undermine itself. 

Freedom from constraint allowed capitalism to become global in scope, and to undermine the authority of both democratic institutions and religious-based moral authority.  As a result, democracies of the many have turned into the oligarchies of the few.  While Republicans believe entrepreneurial pragmatism the best solution for all problems, Democrats believe technocratic management the best.  But, elites of both parties share antipathy towards the common person, thus explaining the election victory of the “outsider” Donald Trump against the consummate insider, Hillary Clinton.

Those who successfully participate in the endeavor of globalization acquire economic advantages over non-participants or those who participate unsuccessfully.  So, domestic economic elites become either traditional oligarchies or rules-based oligarchies, neither of which is good for democratic institutions.  The former tends to suborn those institutions, while the latter supersedes them.  In either case, traditional mediating institutions tend to be cut out of substantive decision-making.  And, as the elites have little interest in traditional religious values, traditional religious faith is ridiculed and undermined.  The years of strong political and social integration immediately post-World War II made this fracturing of society difficult to forecast.

The undermining of religious faith is especially important, as religious faith provides a sense of permanence, of transcendence from God to our families, communities, and other things of meaning in our lives.  Ironically, the openness, dynamism, and creativity of modern global capitalism undermine the very things of most value to us.  Our very freedom has undermined our fundamental need for permanence, and that loss of a sense of permanence has, in turn contributed to undermining free markets and democratic institutions. 

The propensity for societies to decline as a result of technocrats and an endless striving for money and commerce is not new, having been first articulated by one of the three great British empiricists, Bishop Lord George Berkley (1685-1793) and his theory of immaterialism, that matter does not exist and that the world is comprised entirely of a collection of ideas, (section 4 and section 6).  Berkley believed that there are only finite mental substances and an infinite mental substance, namely, God.   Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) also popularized the notion the periods of history characterized by rules and run by technocrats are ones of decline, while those characterized by the “will to power” are ones of creativity and cultural growth because they break the bounds of conformity and provide that sense of permanence the human soul desires.  And which in our post-modern era seems to be diminishing.

Cultures progress by how much they promote individual autonomy and purpose.  The historian Oswald Spengler noted in the early 1900s that during the previous 1,100 years of “Faustian” culture, the human soul overflowed “…with expansive, disruptive, and imaginative impulses manifested in all the spheres of life.”  Spengler saw the Faustian soul as “…overcoming of presence…whose yearning is infinity.”  Too much cultural reliance on the reasoning and desiring parts of the soul, as many argue is the case with globalization, limits realization of  a third part of the soul that Plato described as “spiritedness.”  Spiritedness is the source of religion and desire for some sense of eternal recognition which provides a sense of permanence.   Too much reliance on reason and desire tend to constrain this “spiritedness,” and it is this decline in spiritedness in our free economy and democratic institutions that Reno is getting at.   

In his reflection on Michael Novak’s 1980’s The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism, in the October issue of First Things, R.R. Reno recalls the three mutually-supporting legs upon which Novak held Western culture to stand, but argues that culture no longer supports these legs.  The first two legs–a free economy and liberal democratic political institutions are especially mutually supporting, in that both seek to limit the power of the state, thereby liberating “…the energies of individuals and independently organized communities.”  The third, a Judeo-Christian moral ecology is also reinforcing, in that it “…prizes human dignity, and encourages self-discipline, social trust, and individual initiative,” with both religions based on “Greco-Roman philosophy, law, and civic management.” 

But, Reno argues that the mutual support of these the three legs critically depended upon an historical epoch that may now be passing away.  Ironically, that is the era of the less constrained and unitary 1960s, for which Novak believed “liberation from constraint,” represented spiritual liberation.  Spontaneity and creativity were characteristics of that era.

Reno believes that globalization has weakened the spontaneity and creativity that sprang from “…a multiplicity of motives, incentives, presuppositions, and purposes.”  A free market society provided “order without authority and purposeful freedom without the need for agreement about the common good, beyond the procedural rule of law.”  By contributing to globalization, however, that “birth of freedom” of the 1960s has come to undermine both democratic institutions and a Judeo-Christian moral culture.  In a way, freedom has come to undermine itself. 

Freedom from constraint allowed capitalism to become global in scope, and to undermine the authority of both democratic institutions and religious-based moral authority.  As a result, democracies of the many have turned into the oligarchies of the few.  While Republicans believe entrepreneurial pragmatism the best solution for all problems, Democrats believe technocratic management the best.  But, elites of both parties share antipathy towards the common person, thus explaining the election victory of the “outsider” Donald Trump against the consummate insider, Hillary Clinton.

Those who successfully participate in the endeavor of globalization acquire economic advantages over non-participants or those who participate unsuccessfully.  So, domestic economic elites become either traditional oligarchies or rules-based oligarchies, neither of which is good for democratic institutions.  The former tends to suborn those institutions, while the latter supersedes them.  In either case, traditional mediating institutions tend to be cut out of substantive decision-making.  And, as the elites have little interest in traditional religious values, traditional religious faith is ridiculed and undermined.  The years of strong political and social integration immediately post-World War II made this fracturing of society difficult to forecast.

The undermining of religious faith is especially important, as religious faith provides a sense of permanence, of transcendence from God to our families, communities, and other things of meaning in our lives.  Ironically, the openness, dynamism, and creativity of modern global capitalism undermine the very things of most value to us.  Our very freedom has undermined our fundamental need for permanence, and that loss of a sense of permanence has, in turn contributed to undermining free markets and democratic institutions. 

The propensity for societies to decline as a result of technocrats and an endless striving for money and commerce is not new, having been first articulated by one of the three great British empiricists, Bishop Lord George Berkley (1685-1793) and his theory of immaterialism, that matter does not exist and that the world is comprised entirely of a collection of ideas, (section 4 and section 6).  Berkley believed that there are only finite mental substances and an infinite mental substance, namely, God.   Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) also popularized the notion the periods of history characterized by rules and run by technocrats are ones of decline, while those characterized by the “will to power” are ones of creativity and cultural growth because they break the bounds of conformity and provide that sense of permanence the human soul desires.  And which in our post-modern era seems to be diminishing.

Cultures progress by how much they promote individual autonomy and purpose.  The historian Oswald Spengler noted in the early 1900s that during the previous 1,100 years of “Faustian” culture, the human soul overflowed “…with expansive, disruptive, and imaginative impulses manifested in all the spheres of life.”  Spengler saw the Faustian soul as “…overcoming of presence…whose yearning is infinity.”  Too much cultural reliance on the reasoning and desiring parts of the soul, as many argue is the case with globalization, limits realization of  a third part of the soul that Plato described as “spiritedness.”  Spiritedness is the source of religion and desire for some sense of eternal recognition which provides a sense of permanence.   Too much reliance on reason and desire tend to constrain this “spiritedness,” and it is this decline in spiritedness in our free economy and democratic institutions that Reno is getting at.   



Source link

About the Author:

Leave a Reply