Is “Enlightened Self-Interest” an Ideological Evil That Has Rendered the West a Structure of Sin? Is An Economy of Gift So Fundamental that Its Absence Destabilizes Global Peace?


Not knowing much on the international level, I ask myself, what is the problem with North Korea and radical Islam? What is there behind 9/11 and all this fuss about nuclear weapons and rockets to reach and take out American cities. What is the cause of the global violence? I  continue re-reading “The Joy of the Gospel.”  It’s hard to read the following lines and not must on the above questions…

“60. Today’s economic mechanisms promote inordinate consumption, yet it is evident that unbridled consumerism combined with inequality proves doubly damaging to the social fabric. Inequality eventually engenders a violence which recourse to arms cannot and never will be able to resolve. This serves only to offer false hopes to those clamouring for heightened security, even though nowadays we know that weapons and violence, rather than providing solutions, create new and more serious conflicts. Some simply content themselves with blaming the poor and the poorer countries themselves for their troubles; indulging in unwarranted generalizations, they claim that the solution is an “education” that would tranquilize them, making them tame and harmless. All this becomes even more exasperating for the marginalized in the light of the widespread and deeply rooted corruption found in many countries – in their governments, businesses and institutions – whatever the political ideology of their leaders.”

I think also of Benedict XVI’s “Caritas in Veritate:”

  1. Economic activity cannot solve all social problems through the simple application of commercial logic. This needs to be directed towards the pursuit of the common good, for which the political community in particular must also take responsibility. Therefore, it must be borne in mind that grave imbalances are produced when economic action, conceived merely as an engine for wealth creation, is detached from political action, conceived as a means for pursuing justice through redistribution.

The Church has always held that economic action is not to be regarded as something opposed to society. In and of itself, the market is not, and must not become, the place where the strong subdue the weak. Society does not have to protect itself from the market, as if the development of the latter were ipso facto to entail the death of authentically human relations. Admittedly, the market can be a negative force, not because it is so by nature, but because a certain ideology can make it so. It must be remembered that the market does not exist in the pure state. It is shaped by the cultural configurations which define it and give it direction. Economy and finance, as instruments, can be used badly when those at the helm are motivated by purely selfish ends. Instruments that are good in themselves can thereby be transformed into harmful ones. But it is man’s darkened reason that produces these consequences, not the instrument per se. Therefore it is not the instrument that must be called to account, but individuals, their moral conscience and their personal and social responsibility.

               The ideology that is embedded in the very fabric of free market capitalism is: enlightened self interest. It doesn’t sound bad. It sounds good and abounding in personal responsibility. But there is an occult evil – “enlightened self interest” – that has/is rendering the present economic/social set-up a structure of sin. Case in point: Consider the marginalization of the family for the sake of profit as a deep internal violence within American society. Who on Wall Street or Corporate America is having dinner with wife and young children at night?

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