Monday, November 25, 2013

Conservative Christians missing the point

Hey, if I fire in one direction, I may as well fire in the other as well, right?

While I think liberal Christians tend to really go wrong, and more dangerously wrong - any unjustified invocation of the Men With Guns is pretty damn dangerous, spiritually and otherwise - I also think conservative Christians have a blind spot of their own. The problem is, while the liberal Christians run the risk of warping the commands of Christ, the conservative practically forgets that there's a command of Christ they should be following.

I'm not talking about 'forgetting that giving to the poor is a command of Christ' or 'forgetting to personally give to the poor', though those are risks, at least in a practical sense. But the very idea of looking at a billionaire and encouraging them to - even willfully - part with their money for the sake of the poor? Conservative christians tend to choke there. Isn't that a liberal thing, telling people what to do with their money? Well, no. A liberal thing is aiming a gun at someone and taking their money, spending said money, and then talking about how generous they were to give all that money away. A conservative tells the person with millions or billions in assets that they should be using some of that money to help people who need it.

Now, this is where things get complicated: there is a difference between 'giving money to the poor' or 'helping out the less fortunate' and 'giving money to charity'. I'll have more to say about this in the future, but just to give a hint about what I mean, consider what corrupt Governor Blagojevich's master plan was to permanently install himself as a wealthy individual.

17 comments:

ebougis said...

I don't think this applies to Burkean conservatism, which would strike many modern "conservatives" as too socialistic. That neo-conservative Christians err seems to be a more precise way of titling this post.

-- Codgitator

Gyan said...

A Christian might wonder why a man should want to get rich.

Conservatives are generally utilitarians. They see the good a rich man does but they neglect what was foremost to previous generations-- is this person doing good intentionally or accidentally?
They valued the person doing good intentionally over one that does good accidentally.

Classically, the moral act was one intended for the good of the polis. Thus, a good entrepreneur is one that intentionally seeks the good of his polis. And emphatically, an entrepreneur that seeks to get rich is not good.

So, the Christian and classical critiques coincide.

Crude said...

A Christian might wonder why a man should want to get rich.

If you work hard enough, or are lucky enough, it can quite literally just happen to you.

Also, there's a difference between 'getting rich' in the sense of having a huge Scrooge McDuck style fortune in your vault, and getting rich in the sense of formally having control of a regular source of considerable income, and ownership of a massive spread of assets, most of which are material things employed in the course of a business.

Classically, the moral act was one intended for the good of the polis.

That's going to depend on what classics we're talking about. Last I saw, virtues were a personal thing first and foremost.

And emphatically, an entrepreneur that seeks to get rich is not good.

Getting rich for its own sake? Sure. But you can get rich without doing that. And there is nothing sinful about having wealth in and of itself, or even trying to accumulate it - so long as you accumulate it justly, and make proper use of it.

Gyan said...

"virtues were a personal thing first and foremost"

The Claremont Review people make the point that for Greeks, the flower of the virtue consisted in political actions. Politics is where a man is really and finally tested.

Indeed, for them, a community exists for the sake of conversation among citizens, including political conversation.
Indeed, one can see it in our banal lives. The civic virtues, the civic courage should not be underestimated.

The conservatives are big on personal virtues but it is the civil virtues that have collapsed no less than personal virtues, and the conservatives are mostly AWOL here.
It is more so since the conservatives deride State action.

Gyan said...

"formally having control of a regular source of considerable income, and ownership of a massive spread of assets, most of which are material things employed in the course of a business."

Is all this enterprise and control for the good of the Polis (even as the owner sees it) or for personal aggrandizement?

The intentions are important. It is not sufficient that the enterprise is doing good. For the actor himself, what is crucial is his intentions. And if the intentions are bad, they vitiate the economic good too.

Crude said...

The Claremont Review people make the point that for Greeks, the flower of the virtue consisted in political actions. Politics is where a man is really and finally tested.

The Claremont Review people are going to have to explain why Plato and Aristotle seemed to have such a different opinion on these matters, and why Aristotle apparently doesn't count.

The conservatives are big on personal virtues but it is the civil virtues that have collapsed no less than personal virtues, and the conservatives are mostly AWOL here.

How are conservatives 'AWOL' on civil virtues? The only difference of note here is that they typically think government should be far smaller than it is.

Is all this enterprise and control for the good of the Polis (even as the owner sees it) or for personal aggrandizement?

How do these questions impact what I said?

And keep in mind, 'personal aggrandizement' isn't eliminated just by shifting to the government. Politicians do plenty of things for 'personal aggrandizement'. If you want to argue on that plane, you're going to make the push for increased government involvement and power look even worse.

Gyan said...

Crude,
I am not arguing for increased government involvement and power but for a political economy in the sense of Chesterton.

The conservatives simultaneous laud his prophetic insights and excoriate his economics. But, if his economics was so bad, could he be a wise prophet then, considering that he gave vent to judgments on economics matters on all possible occasions.

Conservatives avoid all serious discussion on Chesterton's economics thought. Consider a single sentence of his--
"enterprises that write advertisements on sky can not claim shy privileges of privacy".

It is simply translated as
"Commanding heights of the economy are inevitably coordinated with the State".

Could you give a SINGLE counter-example?. Yet there is hardly a conservative that would appreciate the sentiment for what it is.

What it tells is that the conservative political theory and political economy is broken.

Crude said...

Conservatives avoid all serious discussion on Chesterton's economics thought. Consider a single sentence of his--
"enterprises that write advertisements on sky can not claim shy privileges of privacy".


Who's knocking Chesterton? I have generally positive views of distributivism.

Could you give a SINGLE counter-example?.

To what? What is 'commanding heights of the economy'?

Yet there is hardly a conservative that would appreciate the sentiment for what it is.

It's not exactly a clear statement.

What it tells is that the conservative political theory and political economy is broken.

I just wrote a post talking about how it's broken. Unfortunately I don't think the broken part is 'We sure need the men with guns to force more people to do things the right way with their money'.

Gyan said...

I don't think the broken part is ''We sure need the men with guns to force more people to do things the right way with their money'.

I entirely agree with you here. But your view of the law is incomplete. The law also teaches. It represents the moral ideal of the nation--the mind of the state, so to speak.

However, the conservatives are stuck in libertarian modes. They see envy everywhere but greed nowhere.

'commanding heights of the economy'?
A dominating factor in the national economy such as petroleum, or steel or internet these days.
Any state would be, necessarily, interested in these dominating sectors. But conservatives have a dream of salvation through free market, the dream that could be called the dream of building the Crystal Palace, of building a society on rational lines.

Crude said...

I've been saying that conservatives typically have a blind spot when it comes to charity, so I have no argument there. I simply do not think the proper response is the men with guns.

And I'm not even sure what 'inevitably coordinated with the state' even means. If you mean the state inevitably pokes its nose into whatever area it feels is 'of national interest', sometimes in a major way, sure. I'm not too thrilled by it.

Gyan said...

"the state inevitably pokes its nose into whatever area it feels is 'of national interest"

But why do you write "feels" rather than "considers"?
Do you think that arbitrariness is the hallmark of the state and that rational deliberation of common good an impossibility?

"conservatives typically have a blind spot when it comes to charity,"
They are not going to like this formulation. Is it really fair? Don't they give far more than liberals do?

Crude said...

But why do you write "feels" rather than "considers"?

In part because, particularly with modern manifestations, 'consideration' of the sort you're talking about hardly plays a main role in these things.

Do you think that arbitrariness is the hallmark of the state and that rational deliberation of common good an impossibility?

I won't say impossibility. I will say it's radically harder for millions of people to consider as a group than it is for individuals to consider of their own accord. Rational deliberation is not the hallmark of the mob. Emotional reaction and arbitrariness, is.

Are you going to tell me that most people even understand what they vote for? Take a good look at what's going down with Obamacare right now.

They are not going to like this formulation. Is it really fair? Don't they give far more than liberals do?

They sure do. It's not relevant to the point I'm making. It's precisely because they typically see charity as radically personal, and feel very awkward when it comes to encouraging others - particularly the wealthy - to engage in charity.

Also? 'Giving' is part of the problem. It reduces charity to 'sign a check', which I think is also a weird warping of the biblical ideal.

Gyan said...

"it's radically harder for millions of people to consider as a group than it is for individuals to consider of their own accord"

Perhaps, but personal lives of most individuals are hardly exemplars of rationality either.

As the family is created by the complementarity of the male and the female, similarly the state is created by the complementarity of the ruling element and the ruled element. Thus, it does not matter a lot what most people or mob think or vote for. The mind of the state is necessarily maintained or created by the elite, those that form public opinion, those that engage in political discourse.

Crude said...

Perhaps, but personal lives of most individuals are hardly exemplars of rationality either.

At least we can approach and try to reason with individuals. We can't do this with 'government'.

The mind of the state is necessarily maintained or created by the elite, those that form public opinion, those that engage in political discourse.

All the more reason for this government to be as limited as possible.

BenYachov said...

I hate conservatives now. Rush Limbaugh my former hero is dead to me. I have been reading all the right wing media I like(Townhall, Breitbart, Newsmax) and they are all attacking the Pope over his condemnation of "unfettered" Capitalism.


It seems to me they don't get Capitalists who don't follow the divine, moral and natural Law are what we mean by "unfettered".

At this point I am like the clowns who produce South Park.

I hate conservatism but I F**king hate liberalism.


No Peace.

Crude said...

Ben, you should be a little less extreme in your reactions I think. Let people make mistakes but still judge them as a whole.

BenYachov said...

The thing is Crude this mishigoss almost(almost mind you) makes Mark Shea seem right!!!

How can I forgive that??????

God help me I am only flesh and blood!