‘If we truly learn to love our neighbor as ourselves, capitalism will not be possible and Marxism will not be needed’. – Shane Claiborne
the posts in this series:
Part 1: Rule of the market
I’m generally known as ‘a person critical to capitalism for religious reasons’, something which, never ceases to surprise certain people for some reason. Sometimes in discussions people really don’t understand why I am so negative about capitalism, or why I assume it to be completely incompatible with my Christian faith. So what is quite evident to me seems to be completely weird and otherworldly for others, and that’s why I decided to write my views down in a series of blog posts and explain the reasoning behind certain conclusions that I’ve reached. This has also helped me to work out what exactly my thoughts are….
So practically I will do a series with one post every week or (more likely in my current scheme) every 2 weeks on Wednesday. But before we start, I want to first explain with this what exactly I’m going to do, and define some terms.
My own faith
I am a Christian with (non-reformed) evangelical and pentecostal roots, who currently has a spiritual home in a vineyard church. I am also very indebted to other traditions inside the Great Tradition of Christianity, and you can expect me to quote from a range of Christian thinkers from Eastern Orthodox church fathers to postmodern new monastics. I also want to make that I am not inventing something new here, and will not at all try to say something that has never been said before. I will only try to discern what I see as important in the Christian Faith how it clashes with what goes for capitalism these days that runs rampant in today’s world.
(Note that I do not specifically speak for my church here, or for every one in the traditions I do identify with.)
I will treat capitalism phenomenologically here, and react to the capitalism I encounter both in current world politics, and what I see described in the words of its defenders in certain discussions. This will probably differ as much from the ideas of its original prophets like Adam Smith (which I’ve never read) as hardcore Stalinism differs from the ideas in Marx’ books, or like christian fundamentalist practice differs from the sermon on the mount, but I only care about the actual effects and influence of capitalism on Creation, society and our faith, not on what it could or should be in the head of theorists.
The form of capitalism that I critique here might be described as neoliberal consumer capitalism with a corporatocratic twist. There probably are other forms of capitalism that do not fit all of my criticisms, and I wish we had a world in which none of my criticism would be true for any system, whether or not people would call their economic vision capitalism.
On the opposite of capitalism
One very important comment I have to make is on the the opposite of capitalism: do not be so naive to think that the 2 only options possible are capitalism as we currently know it, and Marxism. I’m not at all a Marxist, and Marx himself doesn’t even interest me that much. I don’t find most of his analysis of society that relevant for our age, and moreover none of the people who tried to live out his philosophy ever succeeded in doing so, but most of them did succeed in bringing great evil. That doesn’t mean I might have benefited from some thinkers in the Marxist tradition or use words and concepts that have originated from his thought if they accurately describe what I want to say, but my real inspiration lies elsewhere: in the bible and the Christian tradition.
You actually don’t have to be a Marxist at all to disagree with capitalism. Most church fathers would probably find it a horrible doctrine of devils for example… It’s something that only exists since recent times in our Western world anyway: all people who lived before Adam Smith and Karl Marx for example were neither, and I want to find myself not only in the camp of those who critique capitalism, but also in lines of traditions that worked well without any hint of capitalism.
That’s why I I might quote the bible or various church fathers more than I will ever quote Marx in my critique of capitalism. Which does not mean that I will quote a lot of other people too, including various notable ‘leftist’ thinkers where I agree with them.
(And no, quoting someone is not an endorsement of everything they have ever said or written, it only means that that particular quote is interesting)
Left and right
Another note about dichotomies: I do not believe in ‘left’ and ‘right’ categories, and pigeonholing all ideas in either box is the best way to not understand anything of them. I don’t even know how I’d label myself, Something like a Christian green social anarcho-democrat would probably only confuse more than it clarifies anyway…. And anyway, don’t go over-analyse labels please, especially not if they have connotations where you live that are not universal, like the word ‘demomrat’, which for me just refers to the idea of democracy, and not to all the bagage that one of the two ‘binary’ parties in the American 2-party-system (that are actually more alike than you’d think) brings to the word.
I will try to write for everyone. Even though I do understand the language of academia and am able communicate in it, it’s not my native language, and what I write is important for everyone, so I will try to write in general language. If I use too much lingo just warn me…
I am afraid that the ‘solipsistic path of parthenogenesis’ that the academic world follows is a hindrance for a lot of truth and valuable insights to reach a lot of people who could benefit greatly from them. I also do not claim to have read all the up-to-date literature on every subject or any academic or leftist canon. I most likely won’t be quoting Lacan and the other cool cats worshiped by contemporary academia, and only anarchist I will quote for example will be Kropotkin on biology and evolution, not on politics…
Why I write this
The reason why I write this is not academic or theoretic, but purely practical: I am convinced that the kind of capitalism that pervades Western society nowadays (especially consumer capitalism in combination with corporocracy) is harmful in many ways: it is destructive to human beings, to the planet and all that lives on to, and to Christianity. So want to warn people, and hope to be able to help people to find a way forward….
All critique is welcome, but please do read what I write and react to what I say, not to what some people who have never read him assume what Marx has said. That kind of conversation makes no sense at all…
Tune in for the first post, which will be about the centrality of ‘the market’.