I’m going to return to my post series on “The Prologue of John, The Logos, The Creation, Philo and Wisdom” soon but for now I want to share a few thoughts on the relationship between Capitalism and its Ethics to Christianity and its Ethics, specifically as brought out by über Capitalist apologist Ayn Rand. It’s my contention that Capitalism is an ethical system and that it is an ethical system that is diametrically opposed to the Christian ethical system, this is probably the only thing both me and the moral monstrosity that was Ayn Rand agree on.
Ayn Rand is one of the few people who defend Capitalism that are completely honest about the moral foundations of Capitalism. Many defenders of Capitalism will pretend that Capitalism is a-moral, and completely open to whatever the moral framework is of those who participate in it, they present Capitalism as nothing more than an economic system based on private property and markets. Ayn Rand knew better, she understood that behind capitalism was the (almost always unspoken) assumption of the morality of selfishness and egotism. Capitalism is a system based entirely on the investment of capital with labor for the purpose of maximizing profit for the investor of capital, any cost or benefit outside of the cost or benefit to the individual capitalist or the individual consumer is an externality, it’s irrelevant. In capitalism the only value that matters is market value, and then only institution which is sacred is the institution of private property. A system like this has certain ideological axioms. One is that moral values such altruism, Christian concepts of “agape” (which Terry Eagleton calls Political love, I believe rightly so), family, faith, community or anything else outside private property, market value and profit have no place in the economic system. Oh sure you are allowed to profess those moral values on an individual level, outside your role in the economy, but don’t you dare bring those concepts into the business sphere. The guarantor of this rule of capitalism is the competitive nature of capitalism, if Company A runs on any value that challenges the axioms of property rights, market value or profit Company B will compete them out of business.
Capitalism is not a law of nature. There is no law of nature that says that private property should exist, and if it does exist, that it should be absolute. There is no law of nature that says that all distribution must be done on the basis of market exchange, or that enterprises must run only for the profit of private investors. This is a system based on an ethical worldview. As much as liberals and free market supporters want to deny it, capitalism has an ethical foundation. That ethical foundation is, as Ayn Rand correctly formulated, “the virtue of selfishness,” or “rational and ethical egoism.” Capitalism runs on the concept that it is good and proper that individuals exercise exclusive and total control over whatever part of Gods creation they can get their hands on, and that it is the main (for some libertarians the only) duty of civil society to enforce that. It runs on the concept that it is good and proper for those who manage to exercise exclusive and total control over significant sections of Gods creation to use that control for the sole purpose of gaining more control over more parts of Gods creation, as well as exploit those who do not have access to what they need to live (through the fact that Gods creation has been put under sole exclusive control of certain individuals) in order to achieve the purpose of “more for me.” Not only is it assumed that it is good and proper, but, In fact, that it is the only good and proper thing to do with ones sole exclusive control over Gods creation, since if one doesn’t do it one will likely loose access to it. It’s also based on the notion that the dollar value of something measures it’s actual value, and that anything that does not generate dollar value is not actually valuable. These concepts are not natural law, they are ethical constructions on which everything in Capitalism is based. The success of an enterprise is measured in profit (increasing ones sole and exclusive control over Gods creation), and an activities worth is measured in the market value it produces, and even the aesthetic value of art is measured very often in dollar amounts. This is the love of money institutionalized, it’s mandated greed.
There are popular sayings underlining the ethic of Capitalism. “It’s only business” says the man engaged in what would normally be considered unethical behavior, basically he’s saying “we are running on Capitalisms ethical system now, not any other.” “Put your money where your mouth is,” has the implication than an idea, a plan or an assertions value is measured in money, your voice is given weight when you put money behind it, of course with that comes the implication that the more money you have the weightier your voice. Even the concept of success is completely tied up with making money. The concept of efficiency follows the capitalist logic, more efficient is thought of as better, but efficiency is measured only as whatever costs the least for the investor and gains him the most, externalities are not counted. “The bottom line” is another saying underlining the capitalist ethic, basically it reminds the hearer that what matters, what really matters, is profit, every other value or measure is irrelevant unless you focus first on the “bottom line.”
Of course capitalism allows for individual alternative values. When you’re outside of the workplace, outside or the market place. Outside of business, you are allowed to share, to have community, to practice agape, to be self-sacrificing, but in ones role within Capitalism these ethical standards are left at the door. More and more, however, capitalism and its ethic are taking over different aspects of life, to the point where even love and sex are being commercialized through dating websites and services. In fact in modern times very often the ethical space in which to oppose the capitalist ethic has been itself commercialized. “Ethical consumerism,” as it is called is, I believe, one of the biggest shams out there. But that’s another story. Back to Ayn Rand, she writes in “capitalism, the unknown ideal,”:
Just as religion has pre-empted the field of ethics, turning morality against man, so it has usurped the highest moral concepts of our language, placing them outside this earth and beyond man’s reach. “Exaltation” is usually taken to mean an emotional state evoked by contemplating the supernatural. “Worship” means the emotional experience of loyalty and dedication to something higher than man.
It is this highest level of man’s emotions that has to be redeemed from the murk of mysticism and redirected at its proper object: man.
Capitalism posits man as the most high, not mankind as a whole, but the individual, each person is his own God who’s duty it is to dominate creation and gain as much of it for himself as he can. Christianity has another ethic, the most high is God, and God has made us in his image and proclaimed that we are our brothers keeper. Ayn Rand writes in an interview she had with Playboy magazine:
If I were a Christian, nothing could make me more indignant than that: the notion of sacrificing the ideal to the nonideal, or virtue to vice. And it is in the name of that symbol that men are asked to sacrifice themselves for their inferiors. That is precisely how the symbolism is used.
This is half of Christian ethics, love of neighbor, and even love of enemy. Christ brought that out in Matthew 25 in talking about the “least of these” saying, that one has a duty toward all and especially the least well off and least privileged in society. As Ayn Rand realizes, this ethic goes entirely against the Capitalist ethic. Within capitalism those with no material means exist either to be exploited for a profit or thrown aside, denied access to Gods creation. You have no duty to them, your only duty is to money, and maximizing it for yourself and your investor. There is no self-sacrifice in Capitalism, there is sacrifice of others, of workers, of the environment, of anything that is not directly increasing the pursuit of profit. Ayn Rand’s philosophy is summed up thus:
“Man – every man – is an end in himself, not the means to the ends of others. He must exist for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself. The pursuit of his own rational self-interest and of his own happiness is the highest moral purpose of his life.
This is the dark secret of Capitalism that few are willing to accept, but Ayn Rand does, embracing Capitalism means embracing its morality, at least institutionally, it means killing Christianity, or simply relegating it to an inconsequential personal hobby, with no impact on ones social life. In capitalism there is no reward for the just and righteous, only for the greedy, covetous and ruthless. In my opinion Ayn Rand is to Capitalism what Nietzsche is to Atheism. Fredric Nietzsche wasn’t like the starry eyed New Atheists of today, who live in the myth that Atheism has no negative consequences to meaning and ethics. Nietzsche realized the disastrous consequences Atheism had when it came to meaning and morality, but he embraced those consequences along with his Atheism. Likewise Ayn Rand understood the monstrous ethical consequences Capitalism takes with it, she realized the ethical implications of embracing total Capitalism, and she celebrated it, selfishness and egoism are the core of Capitalism, Ayn Rand knew this, and she embraced all of it.
But if one proclaims “Christ is Lord of all.” Then the law of Christ must rule, the law of love, not just any love, agape, political love, unselfish love of neighbor. Usury was banned in the bible, because it was seen as exploitation, one is not to profit from ones neighbor’s needs, yet this is the very basis if Capitalism. There exists the ethical system of Capitalism and Ayn Rand, and there exists the Ethical system of Christ, you can’t embrace both. If you decide to embrace the lordship of Christ, however, then all Idols need to be smashed, including the dominant Idol of today, the idol of Capitalism.