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Catholic Economics, Part 6: How Much We’ve Lost

Marcin Mazur/UK Catholic

Daniel Schwindt - published on 05/07/14 - updated on 06/08/17

For example, some seek social justice, but think that commutative justice is their enemy. Others recognize commutative justice, but see social justice as a fraud. Both undermine themselves from the start.

In light of this situation, we might truly say that the whole problem of our age is just this sort of accidental reductionism—an all encompassing tendency toward nothing-but-ness in our thinking, to the expense of the whole truth:

Descartes reduced philosophy to mathematics; Newton followed by reducing physics to mechanics; Luther reduced theology to the solas; Freud reduced mind to instinct; Locke reduced politics to liberty; and Adam Smith—as you might now be able to guess—ended by reducing the economy to self-interest and calculation.

Consider this: Aristotle, Augustine, and Aquinas had been meticulously assembling and systemizing economic wisdom by the time Smith penned Wealth of Nations. They had studied and organized all economic actions comprehensively into four categories: production, exchange, distribution, and consumption. They had a theory which accounted for the whole.

What did Smith add to the edifice? He certainly added nothing, as others have observed. Rather, he subtracted, as his predecessors had taught him. By the time he was done boiling things down we were left only with two parts: production and exchange. Half of the picture was thenceforth to be denied as non-economic. The modern economy is the result.

Many seem to think that the popes and their encyclicals just want to rob humanity of some great idea it has developed, and to impoverish its wonderful system. But in the end, anyone who looks at the history of ideas cannot help but see that precisely the opposite is true: man has already been robbed of much wisdom in almost every area of human knowledge. Modern man is deprived and impoverished, in some way, in almost every science.

The popes want nothing more than to give man back his wealth; to restore to him what was lost; to make him rich again. They want to “baptize” this economy which is right now dead and broken, because they know that is a thing made, not of ideas and mechanics, but of men with souls.

Daniel Schwindt is a member of the Solidarity Hall thinker-space, and the author of several books including Holocaust of the Childlike and The Pursuit of Sanity.

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