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Archive → December 17th, 2016

How Christianity Created Capitalism


Capitalism, it is usually assumed, flowered around the same time as the Enlightenment–the eighteenth century–and, like the Enlightenment, entailed a diminution of organized religion. In fact, the Catholic Church of the Middle Ages was the main locus for the first flowerings of capitalism. Max Weber located the origin of capitalism in modern Protestant cities, but today’s historians find capitalism much earlier than that in rural areas, where monasteries, especially those of the Cistercians, began to rationalize economic life.

It was the church more than any other agency, writes historian Randall Collins, that put in place what Weber called the preconditions of capitalism: the rule of law and a bureaucracy for resolving disputes rationally; a specialized and mobile labor force; the institutional permanence that allows for transgenerational investment and sustained intellectual and physical efforts, together with the accumulation of long-term capital; and a zest for discovery, enterprise, wealth creation, and new undertakings.

The Protestant Ethic without Protestantism

The people of the high Middle Ages (1100—1300) were agog with wonder at great mechanical clocks, new forms of gears for windmills and water mills, improvements in wagons and carts, shoulder harnesses for beasts of burden, the ocean-going ship rudder, eyeglasses and magnifying glasses, iron smelting and ironwork, stone cutting, and new architectural principles. So many new types of machines were invented and put to use by 1300 that historian Jean Gimpel wrote a book in 1976 called The Industrial Revolution of the Middle Ages.

Without the growth of capitalism, however, such technological discoveries would have been idle novelties. They would seldom have been put in the hands of ordinary human beings through swift and easy exchange. They would not have been studied and rapidly copied and improved by eager competitors. All this was made possible by freedom for enterprise, markets, and competition–and that, in turn, was provided by the Catholic Church.

The church owned nearly a third of all the land of Europe. To administer those vast holdings, it established a continent-wide system of canon law that tied together multiple jurisdictions of empire, nation, barony, bishopric, religious order, chartered city, guild, confraternity, merchants, entrepreneurs, traders, et cetera. It also provided local and regional administrative bureaucracies of arbitrators, jurists, negotiators, and judges, along with an international language, “canon law Latin.”

Even the new emphasis on clerical celibacy played an important capitalist role. Its clean separation between office and person in the church broke the traditional tie between family and property that had been fostered by feudalism and its carefully plotted marriages. It also provided Europe with an extraordinarily highly motivated, literate, specialized, and mobile labor force.

The Cistercians, who eschewed the aristocratic and sedentary ways of the Benedictines and, consequently, broke farther away from feudalism, became famous as entrepreneurs. They mastered rational cost accounting, plowed all profits back into new ventures, and moved capital around from one venue to another, cutting losses where necessary, and pursuing new opportunities when feasible. They dominated iron production in central France and wool production (for export) in England. They were cheerful and energetic. “They had,” Collins writes, “the Protestant ethic without Protestantism.”

Being few in number, the Cistercians needed labor-saving devices. They were a great spur to technological development. Their monasteries “were the most economically effective units that had ever existed in Europe, and perhaps in the world, before that time,” Gimpel writes.

Thus, the high medieval church provided the conditions for F. A. Hayek’s famous “spontaneous order” of the market to emerge. This cannot happen in lawless and chaotic times; in order to function, capitalism requires rules that allow for predictable economic activity. Under such rules, if France needs wool, prosperity can accrue to the English sheepherder who first increases his flock, systematizes his fleecers and combers, and improves the efficiency of his shipments.

In his 1991 Encyclical Letter Centesimus Annus, Pope John Paul II points out that the main cause of the wealth of nations is knowledge, science, know-how, discovery–in today’s jargon, “human capital.” Literacy and study were the main engines of such medieval monasteries; human capital, moral and intellectual, was their primary economic advantage.

The pope also praises the modern corporation for developing within itself a model of relating the gifts of the individual to the common tasks of the firm. This ideal, too, we owe to the high medieval religious orders, not only the Benedictines and the Cistercians, but the Dominicans and Franciscans of the early thirteenth century.

Jump-Starting a Millennium of Progress

The new code of canon law at the time took care to enshrine as a legal principle that such communities, like cathedral chapters and monasteries before them, could act as legal individuals. As Collins points out, Pope Innocent IV thereby won the sobriquet “father of the modern learning of corporations.” In defending the rights of the new Franciscan and the Dominican communities against the secular clergy and lay professors at the University of Paris, Thomas Aquinas wrote one of the first defenses of the role of free associations in “civil society” and the inherent right of people to form corporations.

The Catholic Church’s role helped jump-start a millennium of impressive economic progress. In ad 1000, there were barely two hundred million people in the world, most of whom were living in desperate poverty, under various tyrannies, and subject to the unchecked ravages of disease and much civic disorder. Economic development has made possible the sustenance now of more than six billion people–at a vastly higher level than one thousand years ago, and with an average lifespan almost three times as long.

No other part of the world outside Europe (and its overseas offspring) has achieved so powerful and so sustained an economic performance, raised up so many of the poor into the middle class, inspired so many inventions, discoveries, and improvements for the easing of daily life, and brought so great a diminution of age-old plagues, diseases, and ailments.

The economic historian David Landes, who describes himself as an unbeliever, points out that the main factors in this great economic achievement of Western civilization are mainly religious:

• the joy in discovery that arises from each individual being an imago Dei called to be a creator;

• the religious value attached to hard and good manual work;

• the theological separation of the Creator from the creature, such that nature is subordinated to man, not surrounded with taboos;

• the Jewish and Christian sense of linear, not cyclical, time and, therefore, of progress; and

• respect for the market.

Capitalism Infused with Caritas

As the world enters the third millennium, we may hope that the church, after some generations of loss of nerve, rediscovers its old confidence in the economic order. Few things would help more in raising up all the world’s poor out of poverty. The church could lead the way in setting forth a religious and moral vision worthy of a global world, in which all live under a universally recognizable rule of law, and every individual’s gifts are nourished for the good of all.

I believe this is what the pope has in mind when he speaks of a “civilization of love.” Capitalism must infused by that humble gift of love called caritas, described by Dante as “the Love that moves the Sun and all the stars.” This is the love that holds families, associations, and nations together. The current tendency of many to base the spirit of capitalism on sheer materialism is a certain road to economic decline. Honesty, trust, teamwork, and respect for the law are gifts of the spirit. They cannot be bought.

Source: Will County News

Trophy-toting progressives are destroying the very spirit that made America great


child with baseball trophy“Americans love a winner and will not tolerate a loser. Americans play to win all the time… The very thought of losing is hateful to Americans.” – General George Patton’s address to the 3rd Army on the eve of the Allied invasion of France.

George Patton must be spinning in his grave. He would hate the sissified progressives that have given competition a bad name. He would be disgusted that every kid gets a trophy to prove every child is valued equally and that he or she should be sheltered from the pain that comes with losing.

I laugh at the progressives who want to teach Americans that every child is special. That is impossible because the word “special” loses its meaning. What can be said is that psychological studies show that constant praise makes a child far more likely to become a narcissistic adult.

As far as I can see, the only benefit from eliminating competition is the creation of a $3 billion trophy industry that is booming in North America. Consider that the American Youth Soccer Organization spends 12 percent of its annual budget on buying trophies.

It turns out that rewarding kids with trophies for just showing up opens a door to a dim future. In the real world, just coming into work does not garner special attention. In the real world, those who are mediocre are unable to compete for anything; from mates to good paying jobs. From the first monkey that could swing a club to the last human standing, competition is a part of our DNA.

There is another fact that liberals don’t take into account. A kid has to be pretty stupid to finish dead last in a footrace and still believe he or she earned a trophy.

On September 24, 2013, the left leaning New York Times ran an op-ed under the headline, “Losing Is Good for You:”

By age 4 or 5, children aren’t fooled by all the trophies. They are surprisingly accurate in identifying who excels and who struggles. Those who are outperformed know it and give up, while those who do well feel cheated when they aren’t recognized for their accomplishments. They, too, may give up.

No matter how many times Timmy or Tammy are told they are a champion, at some point they will have to step out into the real world; a world where natural selection still exists and coldly distinguishes the best from the rest.

The best of intentioned teachers, parents and guidance counselors should listen up. The trophy kids face a bleak future of mom’s cooking and basement living.

This came to my attention two weeks ago when I watched Jeff Walz, Louisville’s head women’s basketball coach, brimming over with anger at the effort put in by his team.

Again from The Times:

Carol Dweck, a psychology professor at Stanford University, found that kids respond positively to praise; they enjoy hearing that they’re talented, smart and so on. But after such praise of their innate abilities, they collapse at the first experience of difficulty. Demoralized by their failure, they say they’d rather cheat than risk failing again…

In June, an Oklahoma Little League canceled participation trophies because of a budget shortfall. A furious parent complained to a local reporter, “My children look forward to their trophy as much as playing the game.” That’s exactly the problem, says Jean Twenge, author of “Generation Me…”

Having studied recent increases in narcissism and entitlement among college students, she warns that when living rooms are filled with participation trophies, it’s a part of a larger cultural message: to succeed, you just have to show up.

Perhaps the fictional Dr. Raymond Stantz from the movie Ghostbusters best explains the reality that young people will face.

“You’ve never been out of college! You don’t know what it’s like out there! I’ve worked in the private sector. They expect ‘results’.”

Most of us know somebody who made it a career to go to college to collect a handful of degrees in areas of expertise they never intended to use. Parents cannot protect them from the inevitability of sickness and death.

I remember being five years old and the smell of musk at my grandmother’s funeral. I don’t think even my father took her death as badly as I did. Not because I was particularly close to my grandmother, but because it was then that I understood that not only were my parents going to die and my brothers and sister were going to die, but someday I was going to die.

A country of cry babies

“Cry baby cry
Make your mother sigh
She’s old enough to know better
So cry baby cry.”
– The Beatles, Cry Baby Cry

Even though I was a kid I can still think back to Nov. 22, 1963. I remember my mother sobbing when she heard Walter Cronkite say: “From Dallas, Texas, the flash apparently official: President Kennedy died at 1 p.m. Central Standard Time, 2:00 Eastern Standard Time, some 38 minutes ago.” In a few seconds Cronkite fully composed continued. “Vice President Johnson has left the hospital in Dallas, but we do not know to where he has proceeded; presumably, he will be taking the oath of office shortly and become the 36th President of the United States.”

More than five decades later I marvel at the strength in that man which was made all the more remarkable considering Kennedy was a friend of Cronkite’s. Acclaimed author Tom Wolfe would surely say that Cronkite had “the right stuff.”

Whatever it was that Cronkite had it no longer exists in the fourth estate, especially television news broadcasting.

On election night I kept switching the channels between CNN, MSNBC and the three major networks. There for the world to see, television anchors and Democrats giving analysis were on the edge of nervous breakdowns because the early results coming in pointed to a Trump victory.

On MSNBC, Rachel Maddow was tearing up as she described Donald Trump’s victory as America falling into hell. On ABC, Martha Raddatz began openly crying after the announcement that Trump was the predicted winner. I have to wonder if either of these women has had to deal with any misfortune in their lives such as the death of a relative or even the death of a pet. It certainly didn’t appear so. On the basis of their reaction, I have to give their parents an “F” in child rearing.

If you disagree, consider how you would feel if the commercial airliner you were on began to have flight control problems at 30,000 feet. Do you want the pilot to be made of “the wrong stuff” which was epitomized by Martha Raddatz?

Over the long run, trophy tots are just another tool for the progressives to use in tearing down America’s very competitive spirit that Patton so embraced. More than ever the country needs the millennials and post-millennials to face up to a cold hard truth; that every hour out of every day the nation is competing against a world in which kids in other countries are taught to thrive under the pressure of competition.

We baby boomers can’t do it for them. We are too old and too empty of new ideas. Therefore it may already be too late for America. If such is the case the younger generations can ponder the unfairness of the world as they wait to collect their welfare checks.

Next week in part two, I will predate the decline of the United States before the millennials and look at key current economic and societal measurements. Like all empires before it America is fading.

Yours in good times or bad,

— John Myers

Source: Will County News