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The Problem in a Nutshell

Michael Northcott, in Economy, Ecology, and Christian Ethics, puts his finger on the basic problem of Christian defenses of capitalism. He points to the Michael Novak's theological defense of capitalism as an example of the dilemma that such defenses run into. Here it is in a nutshell: Novak recognizes that capitalism itself does not produce the virtues which make possible its continued success, virtues like thrift, honesty, self-reliance, hard work, trust. Hence the capitalist system must be undergirded by an edifice of Christian morality. However, this is no symbiotic relationship, but rather a parasitic one, because a successful capitalist economy does not merely fail to promote these virtues, but in fact undermines them, promoting instead unbridled desire, greed, laziness (the product of the luxury brought by success), collusion, social detachment, etc. Now, it is of course possible that a carefully regulated capitalist order could hold these vicious outcomes in check, but that begs the question of why it's worth trying to an order whose natural ends run so contrary to Christian morality. Why should Christian morality bear the burden of being the edifice that supports a capitalist order, when that very order is working to undermine the Christian moral edifice?


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