Monday, January 29, 2007

Catholicism, Protestantism, and Capitalism: Part I

by Dr. Peter Chojnowski

When Amintore Fanfani wrote his book Catholicism, Protestantism, and Capitalism1 in the mid-1930s, capitalism was at its nadir. Not only had the engine of modern capitalism, the stock markets, staled, but also, the major nations of the world were governed by ideologies which were specifically and primarily anti-capitalistic. It was during this decade, between the bubble-economy of the 20s and the wartime economy of the 40s, that the thought of many in the United States and Europe was focused upon two very specific questions: Why had capitalism failed so catastrophically in 1929-1930 and what could be put forward as an alternative system? Their answers to both questions were varied. Most give a similar account as to the reasons for the first great failure of capitalism in its approximate 100 year reign as the dominant economic system. What the various philosophers and ideologists disagreed on was the alternative to the failed system. The "solutions" ranged from National Socialism in Germany, to International Socialism in Russia, Fascism in Italy, democratic Statism in the United States, democratic Socialism in Britain, and Catholic corporatism in Spain, Portugal, and Austria. Due to the fact that the failure of capitalism in the years 1929-1930 was so great, there was not one leading country which was ideologically capitalistic.

Before anyone could answer the question as to the reason for the failure of such a system or advance an alternative program to the one offered to Christian man by capitalism, the beast would have to be identified. What exactly is capitalism? For the Catholic of scholastic training, the question of the nature of capitalism translated into the question of the "end" or goal which is immanent in capitalism. Only by searching out the goal could one truly identify the purpose of the actions of those who had adopted the capitalistic mentality. To understand the purpose is the only way to render intelligible all actions and manifestations of capitalism.

In some way, we very much envy the writers and theorists of the 1920s and 1930s, since they could identify the "beast" and, hence, rationally discuss the nature and historical reality of capitalism, along with conceptualizing alternatives which would serve the economic and personal needs of man in a way that capitalism could not. In our day, the liberal economic system, which is "capitalism," is touted by all from the Russian parliament to the investment brokers on Wall Street. A liberal economic system is seen as a "given," one which all nations must accept if they are to remain part of the "international community." Alternatives to the "beast" can no longer even be conceptualized. It is now simply "the way things are." Max Weber, in his highly acclaimed book The Protestant Ethic and the Rise of Capitalism, recognized the totalitarian nature of capitalism when he stated, "The present capitalist system is an immense cosmos, into which the individual is born and which is presented to him, at least in so far as he is an individual, as an immutable environment in which he must live [emphasis mine]."2

Such a "cloud of unknowing," such a universal, ubiquitous triumph of liberal social and economic theory, makes nearly impossible the effort to evaluate the history and the merits or deficiencies of capitalism, along with rendering "peculiar" all attempts to outline an alternative. We, therefore, in 1999 are much more at a loss for objective answers to pressing questions, than were the economic and philosophical theorists in the part of this century before the Second World War. Fanfani, a professor of economic history at the University of the Sacred Heart in Milan, would not be surprised at our predicament, since it is his main thesis in his great work on the relationship, in history, between the Catholic Religion and capitalism, that capitalism is an absolutist system in the same way that Catholicism is. An absolutist system is an intellectual framework, true or false, legitimate or illegitimate, which gives a complete account of the meaning of all events encountered and beings known by the human mind. Everything is understood in reference to the main doctrines of the system. False systems are, of course, completely self-referential (i.e., the intelligibilities which make up the system only have meaning insofar as they are related to other systemic intelligibilities, example, the "withering away of the State," only has meaning and significance within the context of Marxist eschatology). Thus, if we live in a world dominated by false ideological systems, as we do, we can only hope that some anomaly crops up in the "mental world" of one of our contemporaries or of society in general (i.e., some bit of natural or supernatural reality), which will not "fit" the system, therefore, requiring men to rethink the validity of their false system. Fanfani insists that capitalism is such a mental system which, he thought, had encountered its anomaly in the Great Crash of 1929.3

Capitalism, therefore, is understood by Fanfani to be an absolutist system, whose dominant ideas color the entire mental life of those who live within capitalist society. Every goal, every desire, every institution, every attitude is, to a greater or lesser extent, shaped and "tinted" by the primary idea of capitalism which is maximum individual economic profit.4 This thesis serves as the starting point for the three main analytical and historical tasks of his book, Catholicism, Protestantism, and Capitalism. First, there is the task of unfolding the implications of this fact that capitalism is an absolutist, we might even say totalitarian, system which has influenced many, if not most, of the historical events of the last 400 years, while also, completely gaining hold of the mentalities of most of our contemporaries. Second, the task presents itself of trying to understand the relationship between the absolutism of capitalism and the "absolutism" of the Catholic Religion. Catholicism is "absolutist" in the sense that all of a man's actions and all social, political, and economic institutions must be judged by the faithful Catholic according to the moral and doctrinal teachings of the Magisterium. Nothing that man does escapes the solicitude of the Catholic Church. All human actions are within Her purview. Since this is the case, can a single man live both as a capitalist, or a creature of capitalism, and as a Catholic at the same time? Moreover, can Catholicism and capitalism as systems truly be what they are and, yet, coexist with one another?5 What is the historical relationship between these two social, moral, and intellectual systems? In this regard, what Fanfani considers is whether capitalism began in the Catholic milieu of the Christian centuries and, if such is the case, whether it was Catholicism which initially promoted or facilitated the arrival of the capitalist spirit. Finally, Fanfani responds to the German sociologist Max Weber's claim that the Protestant "work ethic" and its concept of secular "vocation" were at the origin of capitalism as a dominant social, political, and economic reality. If Catholicism is not at the origin of capitalism, could Protestantism be?

A) Capitalism as "Spirit"

It is interesting enough to consider capitalism as an economic system with technical and operational features which distinguish it from other systems which have existed in the past (e.g., communism, feudalism, distributism, communal tribalism). Such distinguishing characteristics were well know in the time of Fanfani and have not altered in the least in our day when capitalism appears to have reached its summit of universal acceptability and ubiquitous implementation. Such distinguishing features mentioned by Fanfani are "a system in which capital is predominant, a system characterized by free labor, a system in which competition is unbridled, credit expands, banks prosper, big industry assumes gigantic dimensions, and the world market becomes one."6 If we think of our own day as compared to his, we can see that these obvious prima facie manifestations of capitalism have only become more exaggerated and more threatening in our own time.

If by "capitalism," we mean solely an economic system characterized by the aspects mentioned above, we could historically locate the emergence of such a system no earlier than the middle to late 19th century.7 If this is all that we mean by "capitalism," we would understand it to be merely an economic system, one among many, with its sole end being the supply of necessary goods and services to those in need of such. Could not Catholicism then, which is a religious and moral system, live in perfect accord with the mechanism of capitalism? Why must there be a inevitable clash between the two? Why must each contend within the soul of a single man and within the soul of a political community for absolute and exclusive predominance?

The reason that there is an inevitable clash between the two systems, whether in the soul of one man or in the body politic, is on account of the fact that capitalism is not merely a particular instrument for the providing of goods and services; capitalism providing such goods and services by one means and socialism or feudalism by other means. Fanfani, Weber, and the British sociologist R.H. Tawney advanced the view that the essence of capitalism is the "capitalistic spirit." It is this "spirit," which is a complex conscious/subconscious attitude, which "governing impulses and resolutions to action, determines the creation of new means and new institutions or the modification of those already in existence."8 Since this is the case, rather than being preoccupied with the mechanism for the attainment and deployment of monetary "capital," if we are to understand capitalism as a competitor of the Catholic world-view, we must inquire into the "capitalistic spirit" as a "mode of life, determined by a spiritual orientation."9 Max Weber reiterates the importance of focusing on capitalism as a "spiritual orientation," when he writes: "Inquiry into the forces that encouraged the expansion of modern capitalism is not, at any rate primarily, an inquiry into the source of the monetary reserves to be utilized as capital, but, above all, an inquiry into the development of the capitalistic spirit. Where this spirit reveals itself and seeks realization, it procures monetary capital as means for its action."10

B) The Capitalistic Man

Since the "capitalistic spirit," the élan which animates what I will refer to as the "capitalistic man," is an economic "spirit," it must, primarily, concern itself with the concept of wealth. Indeed, the economic spirit of an age is determined by the current idea of wealth and its ends.11 The peculiarity about capitalistic man is that, in a certain manner, he has no concept of ends but only of means. The "end" for which capitalistic man strives, an ever more complete satisfaction of every conceivable need, is hypothetical and not real. It is simply the concept of human material satisfaction stripped of all limits. Since this "end" is merely hypothetical (i.e., no man has ever experienced a state of complete material and worldly satisfaction), true ends do not orient the life of the capitalist. He is an infinite material desire that is never sated. Wealth is not, than, even the end of capitalistic man. It is simply the means to the acquisition of further means to the acquisition of further means.12 One of the most distinguishing intellectual and moral characteristics of capitalistic man is his reduction of everything to the status of a useful good (bonum utile), and his blindness concerning the reality of things which can be classified as "intrinsic goods" (bona honesta). An intrinsic good is something desirable for its own sake and not merely desirable for its ability to help us attain something else.

This "instrumentalizing" of all goods is part of the "limitlessness" which characterizes the capitalist mind and liberal economic ideology. Intrinsic goods, that is something worth having in themselves, satisfy and fulfill a definite and specific need of the human soul. These goods "complete," at least in a partial way. If all goods (e.g., cash, products, luxury items, precious medals, loans, properties, knowledge, employees) only serve to further our achievement of other goods, which are seen simply as useful for the attainment of other goods, we quickly lose the limits which human nature places on material desire. The traditional economic search for sufficiency and subsistence is transformed into an endeavor to attain a quantitatively unlimited amount of wealth and an unlimited satisfaction of material needs.13

This "limitless" material horizon of capitalistic man differs profoundly from the understanding of traditional Christian man or, we might add, of that of the ancient pagans, whether cultured or uncultured. For the pre-capitalist man, this "limitless" material desire is seen as irrational, since he connaturally recognizes that he has a strictly limited number of needs to be satisfied in the measure demanded by his station in life. As opposed to capitalistic man, traditional man sees wealth in its social and natural context. Since he understands his own needs within the context of social structure and natural desire, his desire for material gain, and the actions which he takes to achieve such gain, will be strictly circumscribed by social customs, political regulation, and religious principles.14

C) Capitalistic Man: The Wrecking Ball of Christendom

Since the "unlimited" as a psychological category, characterizes the capitalistic man, all institutions and cultural norms which place restrictions on, hence, render impossible, the limitless acquisition of wealth must be eliminated. The first restriction, because the simplest to overcome, which must be eliminated are all social institutions and customs which render impossible the capitalist life of unlimited individual acquisition. Historically speaking, taking into account the time period in which capitalism as a economic "spirit" emerged, it was Catholic culture and institutions animated and fostered by the moral teachings and the ecclesiastical legislation of the Church which curtailed the desired unrestricted maneuverings of the capitalist.15 The most obvious restriction which Catholic culture placed upon economic activity was the social and legal obligation to respect feast days. This was by no means of minor economic importance, since there were over 100 days of the year, in France for example, in which work was restricted or prohibited. The veneration given to the saints and to the mysteries of salvation was a good which had no utilitarian or economic value. Capitalism is directed towards constant material production and acquisition, not to rest, contemplation, veneration, and worship. Since capitalism, in a way, has no end, it cannot tolerate the feast which is a foreshadowing of our enjoyment of the never-ending End. The undermining of the feast day restrictions came, historically, in two ways. First, they were simply quietly broken by the man willing to work and sell and the purchasers ready to buy. Second, the capitalist used his influence with the State to encourage it to drop the legal obligation for all to observe the feast day rest. Once the rest becomes merely optional, it very quickly ceases to have economic consequences, since a man who still wishes to keep the feast finds that he will lose business to the one who will not keep the feast day. "Liberty," in this matter, soon eliminates the culture which is informed and lived out in the feast days of the liturgical year.16

One of the Church's greatest economic accomplishments in the Christian centuries was the formation of the guilds. The vocational guilds, although not formed by the clergy were, nonetheless, guided and inspired by them, also, regulated and, hence, restricted the economic freedom of the capitalist. In fact, they made capitalism impossible. These fraternal Catholic corporations, in the true sense of the word corpus - a organic body of men who understood themselves to be members of one occupational whole, were "the guardians of a system of economic activity in which the purely economic interests of the individual are sacrificed either to the moral and religious interests of the individual, or to the economic interests of the community."17 The guilds forced the "economic individual" to act in such a way that his vocational talent was employed either for the good of the whole or for the sake of his own higher interests.

The brotherhood within a particular profession, which was one of the essential marks of the guild, restricted competition between men of the same trade. This fraternal bond, which was the very conceptual opposite of the capitalistic ideal of maximum individual economic gain, demanded that there be an equitable and wide distribution of customers. Such a distribution ensured a minimum of work for each member of the vocational brotherhood. The dominant spirit of capitalism insists that we work in such a way that will put our competitor out of business. To achieve this is to be "successful" in the capitalistic system. The corporative system of the past was ordered to ensure that a man would pursue his occupation in such a way that he did not put his "competitor" out of business. Such bonds of charity, fraternity, and justice had to be weakened or made merely voluntary if the "capitalistic spirit" were to reign unfettered. In the corporative idea, we find the common good of working men and families was put ahead of the unrestricted "right" to purchase any product one fancies. Economic "freedom" breeds the insecurity which is a consequence of ruthless economic competition.18 Here, it is interesting to note that nascent capitalism and the beginning of "suburbanization" were contemporaneous, since the aspiring capitalist needed to flee the medieval cities in order to avoid the economic restrictions placed upon him by the guilds.19

D) The Capitalist Attack on the Sovereign State

Once the capitalist had achieved relative mastery over the culture of Christendom, particularly with the suppression of the guilds and the marginalization of the Catholic Church and its various expressions in human culture, there remained for capitalist conquest the ultimate, and ultimately necessary prize, the State. Without the State, capitalist control of maximum material results through the utilization of minimum means could not be attained.20 Along with the Catholic Church, which is a perfect society with "absolute" objectives and norms which it conveys to man as such, the primary enemy of capitalism is the State. The negativity of this attitude towards the State is not understood by the "conservatives," actually classical liberals, who form the right-wing of the Establishment today. The capitalist, for his own long-term benefit, portrays the State as having goals inimical to properly human goals. The ultimate objective of the capitalist hijacking of the sovereignty of the State is to neutralize it as an institution having goals of its own, both natural and supernatural. For the State to direct society as a whole, including the economic life of society (which, of course, is only one part of the fullness of human social life) is to threaten force to those who do not, at least to a minimal degree, pursue the goods which the State, whether enlightened by supernatural revelation or not, understands to be the common good of the human society. This good includes more than just the economic "good" of man. It is the goal of the forces of capitalism to keep the State from acting on its own.21

This goal of capitalism is not like the theoretical goal of Marxism, the "withering away of the State." Rather, what has been achieved by capitalism has been the hijacking of the majesty, power, and sovereignty of the State so that it serves as a necessary and useful instrument. The tasks which capitalism is willing to "allow" the domesticated State are several.22 First, is the maintenance of security in civil society. This "law and order" is tolerated by capitalism as long as it is a "law" and a consequent "order" completely unhinged from the Natural and Divine Law and from the created order of God or the derivative order of Christendom. "Security" as understood by the State hijacked by capitalism is simply the safe-guarding of the conditions in which the capitalists can achieve maximum material gain from minimal expenditure. Indeed, this is the ultimate guarantee of the stability and fixity of the capitalist system. One which threatens terror and ruin on those who would dare try to depart in anyway from the "given" system. In a fully capitalist society, you have the death of the State even when it seems to be at its most unforgiving and ferocious.

The next two "allowances" which capitalism makes to the newly-nondescript State, is that the State should guarantee "liberty" and that it should "educate" the population.23 As for education, the capitalist cannot achieve the "maximum" economic gains which he desires unless labor has the minimum skill necessary to participate in the mass production of items. Such an enterprise demanded more "training" than the cottage, the hearth, the workshop, the fields, or the church could provide. Only a universal "education" system could provide for a competent workforce for the planned economic ventures of the capitalists. Also, the more efficient the worker the more streamlined were the operations needed to produce maximum profit for the capitalist. Such universal and secular education, also serves to dislocate a mind from his land, his home, and his own personal life, making him more attune to the impersonal character of the machine.

E) The Profitability of Liberty

We have already seen how the "liberty" of the "right to work," was used by the newly-emerging capitalists of the 16th through 18th centuries to undermine the restrictions on competition imposed upon the economic life of the community by the guilds. Such liberty, brought about the elimination of such restrictions as the prohibition against night work.24 The economic liberty which "allowed" workers to work at night "if they so choose," was also invoked to "allow" women and children to enter the industrial workforce, "freely" consenting to the wages and conditions offered by the industrial capitalists. No longer did the "retrograde restrictions" from the "dark ages" demand a limit to hours worked. In order to "freely" advance maximum economic gain through the maximum exploitation of the worker, maximum hours of work were demanded of men, women, and children as wages were kept at a rock-bottom minimum. The use of female and child labor was normally used as a justification for the low wages paid.25 The happy family of cottage and workshop becomes the "hands" of the capitalist factory, working with tools which they do not own, producing wealth which they have no right to, and receiving a wage which constitutes a fraction of the value of the wealth produced. Lets be honest, is there a "businessman" who seeks to maximize his employs pay, their free time, and their share in the company if such would infringe, in a serious way, upon profits? Has anyone asked the question as to who most benefits from economic "liberty"? Moreover, who truly benefits by the unrestricted freedom of the press and speech? Those who have the capital to dominate the technological means of opinion creation. Appetite and ignorance are exploited as soon as unrestricted "liberty" is allowed by the rightful regulator of press and speech, the State.

F) Capitalism, Republicanism, and Religious Liberty

As long as the institutions of pre-capitalism, and foremost among them, the State, were organized for the pursuit of pre-capitalist ends, the ordering of all activity towards the achievement of economic values was impossible. The State, therefore, had to be stripped of that which set it above the private enterprises of the citizens over which it ruled. The State must be the instrument for the realization of the individual interests of those who have become powerful enough to control the majority of the citizens of a nation. The institutional form of the State must be altered so that no organ of the State would impede the economic rationalization of society for the benefit of those who control the financial resources of the State, hence, who control the majority of citizens. If this is granted, the only form of government which would be permissible would be that of a republic. A republican form would prevent a monarch from overruling the plans and interests of those who through democratic campaign "contributions" had hijacked the sovereignty of the State. No king must block private interests from trumping the common good. In the words of the Marquis of Caracciola, every state must become like England in 1764 had become "a democratic republic in which commerce is God."26 It is not surprising, than, that royal authority declined as industrial capitalism increased in dominance. It need not even be mentioned that a similar decline during these years occurred in the practice of the Catholic Religion. There is no necessary conceptual contradiction between monarchy and the Catholic Faith on the one hand and capitalism on the another. However, the testimony of history as to the relationship between these is clear.

There is one more "liberty" which is required for the complete domination of the capitalistic spirit. That is religious liberty. The official agnosticism of the State in matters of religion and the, consequent, renunciation by the State of the pursuit of all supernatural ends. The confessional State presents many problems for the capitalist. The first and most obvious being that it places spiritual values above economic ones and considers such truths and realities when considering various courses of action.27

It is, however, the "complications" introduced into an officially religious society which are the main concern of capitalists. If a certain creed is established, it will "inevitably" create obstacles to the free economic activity of dissenters.28 Not only must the State be neutral in matters of religion, but such neutrality must produce a certain indifferentism to differences in creed. If diversity of creed is too acutely felt, it may create obstacles to the expansion of economic life.29 Such a desire for the "peace" incumbent upon religious indifferentism is not merely a phenomenon of our own century, the "Christian" merchants of Tunis in the late Middle Ages forced the departure of the Franciscan friars whose preaching of the Faith threatened to destroy the "peace" that was highly propitious for their trade.30 This new attitude adopted towards religion by the State, and the, subsequent, practical political effects of that attitude, was simply the capitalist impressing on the State the exact same attitude that he bore in his mind during his business dealings. As Fanfani states, "For what possible reason could a trader concern himself with the religious faith of those with whom he traded? For him the one and supreme God is utility, whose earthly manifestation is money; that is enough."31 To the liberal and pre-revolutionary skeptic Voltaire, the center of early capitalism, the London Stock Exchange, seemed almost a sacred spot. There, his belief in the separation of Church and State appeared to receive empirical verification. For "there," he remarked, "men of all religions treat with one another without asking in whom or in what they believe."32

See also: Catholicism, Protestantism, and Capitalism: Part II

1 Amintore Fanfani, Cattolicesimo e Protestantesimo nella Formazione Storica Del Capitalismo. English translation, Catholicism, Protestantism, and Capitalism (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1935).[Back]

2 See, Max Weber, Die protestantische Ethik und der Geist des Kapitalismus in Archiv für Socialwissenshaft und Socialpolitik, vol. 20-21, 1904-1905. English trans. The Protestant Ethic and the Rise of Capitalism, London, 1928.[Back]

3 For works in which the authors predicted the demise of the capitalistic system, some even before the Crash of 1929, see, G. Del Vecchio, Il problema della stabilità del sistema economico capitalistico, in Economia, 1925; G. Schumpeter, The Instability of Capitalism in the Economic Journal, 1928; Gerhardt, Ende des Kapitalismus? in Zeitwende, 1928; A. Weber,Ende des Kapitalismus? (Munich: Hüber, 1930); M. Kellersohn, Contre un cataclysme Économic (Paris: Stock, 1931); L. Watt, S.J., The Future of Capitalism (New York: The Catholic Social Guild, 1932); P. Lucius, Faillite du Capitalisme? (Paris: Payot, 1932); L. Romier, La crise du capitalisme, Pt. II of Problèmes economiques de l'heure présente (Montreal: L(vesque, 1932; Amintore Fanfani, Declino del capitalismo e significato del corporativismo in Giornale degli Economisti, 1934.[Back]

4 Fanfani, Catholicism, pp. 50-51.[Back]

5 "If capitalism is envisaged instead as a complete social system, the question of its relations with religion acquires a far greater significance." See, Fanfani, Catholicism, p. 2. [Back]

6 Ibid., p. 7.[Back]

7 Ibid., p. 37, note 1. [Back]

8 Ibid., p. 10.[Back]

9 R.H. Tawney, Religion and the Rise of Capitalism (London, 2nd edition, 1929).[Back]

10 Weber, Protestant Ethic, chap. 1, art. 2. Cf. Fanfani, Catholicism, p. 10, note 1.[Back]

11 Fanfani, Catholicism, p. 21.[Back]

12 Ibid., p. 22.[Back]

13 Ibid.[Back]

14 Ibid., pp. 24-25.[Back]

15 Ibid., p. 45.[Back]

16 Ibid., p. 44. The fact that ecclesiastical legislation became the guarantor of pre-capitalist ideals is shown in, A. Sapori, L'interesse del denaro a Firenze nel Trencento in Archivio Storico Italiano, 1928, vol. X.[Back]

17 Fanfani, Catholicism, pp. 50-51. [Back]

18 Ibid., pp. 50-51.[Back]

19 Ibid., p. 102.[Back]

20 Ibid., p. 46.[Back]

21 Ibid.[Back]

22 Ibid.[Back]

23 Ibid.[Back]

24 Ibid., pp. 50-51.[Back]

25 Ibid., pp. 58-59. In N. Wales in the 18th century, miners worked more than 12 hrs. a day. Cf. H. Dodd, The Industrial Revolution in North Wales (Cardiff University Press, 1933), p. 396. For women working 16 hours a day, C. Day, Economic Developments in Modern Europe (New York, 1933), p. 14. For the long working hours in England after the establishment of Protestantism, see Lipson, Economic History of England, vol. II, pp. 55-58 and pp. 125-161.[Back]

26 B. Crocoe, Uomini e cosa della vecchia Italia, vol. II (Bari, 1927), p. 89.[Back]

27 Fanfani, Catholicism, p. 91. [Back]

28 Ibid., p. 96.[Back]

29 Ibid., p. 94.[Back]

30 Ibid., p. 94, note 3. Also, Br. Egidio d'Assisi, I detti (Brescia, 1933), p. 35.[Back]

31 Fanfani, Catholicism, p. 98.[Back]

32 Ibid.[Back]

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