Professor Innes's Reaction to the Speech
By David C. Innes
“Hauerwas told us that American democracy is plutocracy—the rule of wealth—in which the middle class doesn't care who rules as long as they don't lose their stuff. But a populace of beggars and the materially indifferent would soon be once again under arbitrary government. It would soon return to the government of men in their unrestrained, unmediated greed and glorious domination, rather than the government of laws that is the limited, constitutional government of a commercial republic like ours. Yes, a commercial republic, with all its attendant spiritual pitfalls. Anyone who thinks that poverty under tyranny is the better choice because it is better for our souls should move to North Korea or Zimbabwe. They are still taking applications.
“But Prof. Hauerwas was not suggesting that we revert to medieval peasant life under the indifferent hand of hereditary lords because it would free us from such culturally pervasive and institutionalized avarice. Actually, it's not clear that he wasn't. He celebrated begging. As he pointed out, the Franciscans begged. The Franciscans begged and so should we. He even claimed that we have no evidence that Jesus ever worked, so he must have begged. Thus, Christians should follow in his steps. The experience cultivates in us a recognition of our poverty and of our material dependence on God. To round out the judgment, he criticized Adam Smith for redirecting our economy, and with it our hearts, in a way that would clear the beggars from our midst. A rising tide lifts all paupers. But he says we need beggars for our sakes, i.e., to give us occasion to give. The beggars might consider that an overly selfish view, perhaps even greedy, and opt for Adam Smith. Nonetheless, there will always be helpless people among us, the disabled for example, who give us occasion to give.
“Hauerwas went far beyond suggesting that Christians pick up the habit of quitting their jobs and adopting the mendicant ways of Franciscan monks. He condemned the very foundations of the modern economy. ‘We cannot imagine anything but an endlessly growing economy—that says something about our greed.’ ‘People have always been greedy, but now we have made it into a moral quality necessary for economic growth.’ But you cannot separate the modern hope of prosperity, both personal and shared, from modern economic liberty. And you cannot separate economic liberty from property rights. And you cannot separate security in one's property from security against arbitrary government, which is political liberty. To desire one without the other is like saying you want modern life, but without the invention of nuclear weapons. The one entails the other. You cannot maintain a society-wide medieval attitude toward possessions and acquisition in isolation from an otherwise modern attitude toward nature (conquerable), one another (equal politically), and political power (accountable to the people). These attitudes are all part of a civilizational package.
“If Hauerwas wants all the benefits that come with widespread begging, he has to take filth, plague, crib death, famine, and oppression along with it. You cannot have the conquest of nature by science (consider penicillin) and the attitudes of personal assertion over fortune that underpin it, without also the ambitious creation of wealth by countless entrepreneurs, great and small.“
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