Early Modern Period, Political Sensibilities & Rome

Aquinas is considered a Doctor of the Church, yet the Holy Roman Catholic Church’s distain for Republican regimes is notorious.  Possessing an unreformed Augustinian view of both the human person, money, and political order the Church was simply unable to accommodate competing views of emerging power relations.  It hewed closely to that Muslim lake and took insult to most monetary endeavors.

What changed?

The arrival of the new world was certainly a factor, as was the near satanic drive of atheist humanism in France under the revolution.  But what accounts for the weath and prosperity of the developed world?  Clearly when one looks at periphery regions like littoral Africa, one ponders how nation states assimilated by Imperial powers are today flourishing, yet Gallic and Islamic cultural nation states are despotic.  How did one side get it right?

The answer is compelling and Dr. Deirdre Nasen McCloskey’s latest explains how it happened in Bourgeois Equality:  how ideas, not capitalism nor institutions enriched the world. 

For this distinguished economist and historian, it was ideas about commerce, innovation and the humanist virtues that support them accounts for the great enrichment transforming the world since 1800.

The grinding Malthusian poverty came to a halt around 1800, that’s when the takeoff began, first in western Europe with coal denominated industrial economies, then North America with the boring of hard steel into rifles and railroads.  The cultural antecedent was individualism and perspective, the twin psychological virtues of Protestant modernity. What some numbers?  Income alone rose 2,900% since 1800.  The great enrichment is the single most significant event procured by the Church since the neolithic revolution in agriculture.  Make no mistake, with McCloskey, we’re mining the social, political and economic impact of the specificity of Christian ethics.

Why is the final repository found in the social impact of revelation as the Church?

Because other civilizations possessing favorable material or social explanations sufficient for a great enrichment never launched it.  Social theorists reveal favorable conditions from capital accumulation to property rights, or the rule of law, yet these favorable environmental or social conditions failed.  China possessed a thriving mercantile culture and strong institutions; Italian bankers accumulated vast sums of capital throughout the early modern period similar to imperial or colonial regimes, even still theft or favorable environmental, social institutions cannot account for the revolution that overcame the west from 1800.

Only a change in self-consciousness or values can underwrite the wests achievement.

Historically conceived by littoral Anglo-Dutch, the new ideology presented a deep moral vision of the world that vaunted the value of physical exertion, innovation, earthly happiness and prosperity.  Consequently, it was the demonstrative liberty, dignity and equality as consequences of any endeavor that procured western ascendancy.  These secular achievements are consequences or impacts of applied Christian ethics.

What McCloskey has done is to unearth the theological foundation of secular achievements.  By mining the foundation of both the reformation and scientific-industrial revolutions, she ties together stands of abstractions that have long since underwritten western ascendancy.

Finally, an apologist worthy of our time and best efforts. 


About William Holland

Systematic Theologian/International Relations
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