In a sermon on 1 Tim 6:1-2, John Calvin commented,
“…but they were slaves, of the kind that are still used in some countries, in that after a man was bought the latter would spend his entire life in subjection, to the extent that he might be treated most roughly and harshly: something which cannot be done amidst the humanity which we keep amongst ourselves. Now it is true that we must praise God for having banished such a very cruel brand of servitude.”
Adam Smith’s skill was as a storyteller of the first order. It takes one a while to realize where his appeal lies. As many have noted, his Wealth of Nations is rambling, polemical, and rather cavalier with evidence. All this sits rather strangely with the popularity of his writing, both then and now. How to understand that appeal? We suggest it may be found not in any skill at constructing careful and detailed argument, but in his ability to tell stories.
In likening kingdoms lacking justice to criminal syndicates, Augustine invokes the story of a confrontation between Alexander the Great and a pirate. Indeed, Augustine judges “that was an apt and true reply which was given to Alexander the Great by a pirate who had been seized. For when that king had asked the man what he meant by keeping hostile possession of the sea, he answered with bold pride, ‘What thou meanest by seizing the whole earth; but because I do it with a petty ship, I am called a robber, whilst thou who dost it with a great fleet art styled emperor’” (De civ. Dei 4.4.1).
Romans 13:1-7 has stood as one of the most important texts throughout the history of Christian political thought, but like so many biblical texts, has proven capable of being put to the service of several different—even contradictory—ends. The 16th century in particular stimulated several different readings of the passage, readings which have continued to remain popular down to the present day.
The original sin of man is the torpor and corruption of the chaotic matter in which he may be said to be born.
The Reverend Thomas Malthus (1766-1834) is best known for An Essay on the Principle of Population (1798). Here this classical economist argues that human beings are caught between two drives, lust and hunger – or, being the polite reverend that he was, population and subsistence.
Back in September, I suggested that the current literature on just intelligence theory may be unduly influenced by jus contra bellum thinking; that is, a strain popular among the more pacifistic elements of just war thinkers which tends to elevate either the jus in bello principles (i.e. immunity of noncombatants from direct attack and micro-proportionality) or the prudential ad bellum criteria (i.e. last resort, macro-proportionality, probability of success) over the traditionally-prior, deontological categories of sovereign authority, just cause and right intention.
At the beginning of the fifth chapter of the second treatise of his Two Treatises of Government, John Locke writes:
It is very clear, that God, as king David says, Psal. cvx. 16, “has given the earth to the children of men;” given it to mankind in common. But this being supposed, it seems to some a very great difficulty how any one should ever come to have a property in any thing … I shall endeavour to show how men might come to have a property in several parts of that which God gave to mankind in common, and that without any express compact of all the commoners.
““I cannot believe that the men who occupy the pulpits of this land, assuming that they are men of ordinary intelligence and common sense and that they have, as they ought to have as leaders, some little knowledge, at least, of the Word of God, are without some convictions on the subject (of race prejudice), that they do not know that it is wrong, contrary to every principle of Christianity.”
Addressing the difficulties attending to necessary albeit unpopular reform of economic policy, the prime minister of Luxembourg Jean-Claude Juncker once made remarked famously, “We all know what to do, but we don’t know how to get re-elected once we have done it.”
. . . Often much more important than what people argue is how people argue. . . . Many whom we may have hastily taken as kindred spirits, because they happen to have reached some conclusion we moderns take for granted, turn out on closer inspection to have been motivated by wholly different concerns, so that the convergence is largely illusory. Others, however, whom we might be apt to dismiss as barbaric for their unenlightened ideas, turn out to have been strikingly liberal-minded.
For the sake of the following argument, I would like to grant the premises of Max Weber’s idealist argument: religion and culture (superstructure) are causative agents in socio-economic change. As is well known, Weber argued that Calvinism acted as a crucial vanishing mediator for capitalism. It provided the cultural, behavioural and religious framework that enabled capitalism to establish itself and gain ground.
I would like to make a modest proposal for reading ancient texts like the Bible. Of course, I am by no means the first or last to make such a suggestion. But my interest is quiet specific: how might texts are read in relation to socio-economic life? As with many scholars, I take the position that the texts are as vital as the variegated archaeological data, indeed that the texts themselves may be seen as “archaeological,” although more in a Foucauldian sense.