Carlton was reared as a Southern Baptist in middle Tennessee.
He was enrolled as a Raymond Brian Brown Memorial Scholar at
the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest,
NC when he converted to the Orthodox Church.
Clark earned his B.A. in philosophy from Carson-Newman
College in Jefferson City, TN and and M.Div. from St
Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary in NY, where he
studied under the renowned church historian, Fr John
Meyendorff. He also holds an M.A. and Ph.D. in Early
Christian Studies from the Catholic University of America in
At present, Clark is assistant professor of philosophy at
Tennessee Tech University, where he teaches the history of
philosophy as well as philosophy of religion and logic. He
writes on a number of subjects and has had articles
published in the Journal of Christian Bioethics, St
Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly, and the Journal of Early
Clark is also the author of “The Faith” series from Regina
Orthodox Press: The Faith: Understanding Orthodox
Christianity; The Way: What Every Protestant Should Know
about the Orthodox Church; The Truth: What every Roman
Catholic Should Know about the Orthodox Church; and The Life:
The Orthodox Doctrine of Salvation.
"Come now, and let us
reason together, saith the Lord. Though your sins be
as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though
they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool. If
you be willing and obedient, you shall eat the good
of the land."
welcome once again to Faith and Philosophy.
Today’s topic is “My Two Cents on Capitalism.” I’m going to
return to the topic of theological language in future
podcasts, and when I do, I want to focus specifically on the
Scriptures and how we are to read them.
I want to take a little detour. I’ve been catching up on
various podcasts, here on AFR, recently. And I was intrigued
by a series of podcasts on capitalism. So while the topic is
fresh in my mind, I wanted to throw in my two cents.
follows is not intended to be a refutation of any one thing,
said by any one person. Rather my comments are aimed more at
clarifying the terms and issues that have been raised. The
one criticism I will make of the previous discussions is
that there was a lack of historical context. Trying to
define terms abstractly, without reference to their
historical development, will inevitably lead to distortions.
I want to explode two myths
surrounding capitalism, hence my two cents. The first myth
is that capitalism depends on private property and free
markets. The second is that progressivism and socialism are
real alternatives to capitalism.
start with the first myth, and this is sure to raise a few
hackles. Historically capitalism has proven to be the enemy
of private property, not its champion. Yes, yes I know. We
have all heard people define capitalism as the private
ownership of property, over against socialism which is the
public ownership of capital.
definition is both misleading and misserving. People owned
private property for millennia prior to the onset of
capitalism. The Roman recognized private ownership, as did
the Greeks and the Jews. Private property is not a modern
invention. Indeed, classical republicanism depended on the
private ownership of property and, therefore, on the virtues
of the property holding citizen class.
welcomed and praised capitalism. I bet you didn’t hear that
in government schools. But you say, Marx wanted to eliminate
all private property. And so he did. But he saw capitalism
as a necessary stage in the socioeconomic development of
mankind—a development which he believed was leading
inexorably toward a communist utopia.
words, capitalism is essential to the concentration of
property in the hands of a few. This does two things from
the communist perspective. It accentuates socioeconomic
inequalities to the point where the proletariat will rise up
in revolution, and it makes the transition to communism
easier because so few have property in the first place.
capitalism thrives only in controlled markets, not free
markets. Some of the previous discussion focused on
laissez-faire capitalism. Let’s get one thing clear.
There is no such thing. Never has been. Never will.
Laissez-faire capitalism is a libertarian fantasy, and
libertarians have been correctly described
as utopians of the right.
as it developed historically, is not rooted in the exchange
of the free market, but in the manipulation of the market by
governments for the benefits of capitalists—or at least,
all, capitalism can only exist where the economy has been
monetized. It would be impossible in a barter economy. Now a
monetized economy necessitates a monetary system of some
sort, which will eventually require a banking system and,
just as important, some sort of political or governmental
backing for the money.
very beginning, capitalists relied on governments to benefit
them through monetary tax and trade policies. Capitalism and
mercantilism go hand in hand. The robber barons of the
gilded age did not get filthy rich by manipulating free
markets. They got rich thanks to federal monetary policy,
tax policy, public spending on things like railroads, and
high tariffs that protected them from free competition.
it is impossible to get as rich as the Vanderbilts or
Rockefellers or even the Bill Gates or Warren Buffetts of
the world without massive government manipulation of the
markets—especially through monetary and tax policy. Some
people get rich because of these manipulations. Others
suffer loss. It has nothing to do with survival of the
fittest. It has to do with who you know and how well you can
manipulate the system in your own favor.
brings me to the second myth—namely that progressivism and
socialism offer genuine alternatives to capitalism. If
capitalism really were concerned with private property and
free markets, they would be an alternative. But as
capitalism actually promotes the concentration of wealth and
the socialization of the riskier aspects of the economy,
progressivism and socialism turn out to be just a different
side of the same corrupt economic system.
said that evangelicals constitute the single dumbest voting
block in the U.S., because they can almost always be counted
on to vote against their own long-term interest—just as long
as a politician says something nice about Jesus and pretends
to oppose abortion. Second to evangelicals, however, I would
have to rate self-professed progressives, who really believe
that because they support things like government regulation
and universal health care insurance that they are standing
up to the corporate elites in the name of the little man.
Utter and complete horse manure.
give you one example. This year the Congress gave the FDA
the ability to regulate tobacco—a victory for consumers and
health advocates over big, bad tobacco companies, right?
Well, not quite. What turned the tide is when the big
companies dropped their opposition to the bill. They
reasoned that the new regulations would give them a
competitive advantage over smaller tobacco companies, since
the inevitable FDA regulations would be more onerous for
most cases, government regulation of industry tends to
benefit large corporations and place greater burdens on
small companies. All of this can be seen if we look at the
history of the United States. Contrary to our school book
mythology, the first settlers were not all religious
minorities looking for freedom.
Massachusetts Bay Company and the Virginia Company were for-profit
corporations with stockholders back in England, who were
expecting a handsome return on their investments. From the
very beginning, however, they were tensions between the
colonists and their corporate overlords. What most people
don’t realize is that a good deal of the parliamentary
legislation, of which the colonists complained so bitterly,
was passed at the behest of and for the explicit benefit of
the East India Company.
By the end
of the 18th century, the East India Company had become so
rich and powerful—it had its own army and navy at one point—it
pretty much had Parliament and the Crown bought and paid for.
Thus when the colonists complained of tyranny, it was really
corporate tyranny, though manifest through the acts of a
colonists achieved independence, two distinct paths lay
before them. Jefferson wanted a complete break with the old
mercantilist, capitalist system. He envisioned a republic of
smaller republics, based on widespread ownership of farm
property and small businesses. He warned of dire
consequences if the stockjobbers and bankers ever got the
upper hand. He believed that for property rights and freedom
to be preserved, political power must be as decentralized as
other side of the debate was Alexander Hamilton. He wanted
to reproduce English mercantilism on this side of the
Atlantic and to beat the English at their own game. He
envisioned the United States as an economic and military
juggernaut. To accomplish this however, both political power
and financial capital would have to be concentrated.
first half of the 19th century, the Jeffersonians held the
Hamiltonians at bay, for the most part. But in 1860, all of
that changed. The election of Abraham Lincoln placed the U.S.
firmly on the path toward becoming a mercantilist empire,
and we’ve been paying the price for this ever since.
explode one more myth here. The Republican Party is not now
and has never been a conservative party. It was founded in
the 1850s and remains to this day a coalition of corporate
elites and social progressives. The Republican program of a
national bank, publicly funded internal improvements, and
high protective tariffs created not only unprecedented
wealth in this country; it also created unprecedented
corruption—both private and governmental.
progressive reforms of the first part of the 20th century
were not a repudiation of mercantilist capitalism, merely a
retrenchment along different lines. Government regulation
became the price for government largesse. Let’s not forget
that Republican Teddy Roosevelt was one of the founders of
the Progressive Party.
1932, the Democratic Party was still the more conservative
of the two parties, but that changed with the election of
F.D.R., whose family, let us not forget, had been Republican.
Take a look at the Democratic platform of 1932. It is almost
the mirror opposite of what F.D.R. actually did in office.
The election of 1932 was one of the great swindles of all
this explains, by the way, why President Obama’s actual
policies differ little from those of George Bush. Obama
supported the bailout plan before taking office, and his
administration has continued the same disastrous policies of
bailing out the banks and debasing the dollars in the bank
accounts of people who actually have to work for a living.
Nothing has changed.
to a question raised by earlier podcasts, is capitalism
compatible with Orthodox Christianity? Well, the answer is
no. But progressivism does not offer a real alternative.
Capitalism is a modernist economic system and progressivism
is a modernist palliative—not an alternative.
real alternative to capitalism is something along the lines
of what Jefferson envisioned. This is similar to the vision
of the Catholic distributivists, such as Belloc and
Chesterton, and to the third way of the Protestant economist
Wilhelm Röpke. The foundation of such a system is widespread
property ownership and decentralized government.
point out here that the Greek word economia
means household management. Wall Street is not the economy.
The economy is how you provide for yourself and your family
and how you treat your neighbors in the process. It’s
becoming increasingly difficult, however, to provide for
ourselves when our savings are devalued by government
policies and our small farms and businesses are regulated
within an inch of their lives to the advantage of big
to conclude with some comments concerning the Protestant,
Wilhelm Röpke. These are made by Ralph Ansel in a very good
article he wrote:
For a Protestant who holds the situation created by the
Reformation to be one of the greatest calamities in
history, he must have difficulty finding his religious
home either in contemporary Protestantism, which in its
disruption and lack of orientation is worse than ever
before, or in contemporary post-Reformation Catholicism.
All he can do is to reassemble, in himself, the
essential elements of pre-Reformation, undivided
Christianity. And in this, I think I am one of a company
of men whose goodwill, at least, is beyond dispute.
We know of
course that undivided Christianity does not need to be,
indeed cannot be, reassembled because it already exists
within the Orthodox Church. But this passage is a reminder
that the solution to modern man’s economic dilemmas lie not
in modernism, but in the faith and life once delivered to
alone, is capable of offering not only a critique of
modernity, but of pointing us to real solutions. We cannot
bear the witness to the truth that the world needs, however,
as long as we continue to try to make peace with political
and economic systems that, by their very nature, undermine
the faith we hold and the life we endeavor to lead.
may our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, through the
intercessions of St. Innocent of Alaska and of the Blessed
Elder Sophrony Sakharov, have mercy upon us all and grant us
a rich entrance into His eternal Kingdom.
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