"Adrian Pabst is lecturer in politics at the University of Kent. He is the author of Metaphysics: The Creation of Hierarchy
and the editor of The Crisis of Global Capitalism: Pope Benedict XVI's Social Encyclical and the Future of Political Economy
Much of nineteenth- and twentieth-century philosophy proclaimed the end the metaphysics and the death of God.
The German, French and English strands of the Enlightenment were united in their suspicion of metaphysical theism. Figures as diverse as Comte, Marx, Spencer, Nietzsche or Russell defended the absolute autonomy of atheist reason against religious faith. Following the rise of partisan ideologies of the political left and the political right that terrorized the West from 1789 to 1989, the downfall of the Soviet empire appeared to herald the "end of history" and a global convergence towards liberal market democracy.
But as we now know, the end of history never began. 1989 was not so much the victory of democratic capitalism over totalitarian communism as the uprising of civil society and the Church against authoritarian regimes and state-orchestrated atheism. In the West and elsewhere, the 1990s witnessed the triumph of neo-liberal ideology masquerading as pragmatic centrism - a "third way" beyond left and right to which there was seemingly no alternative. The events of 11 September 2001 marked the displacement of secular terror by religious terror and the clash of fanatical faiths that are secretly collusive.
The problem with modernity and post-modernity is that both buy into the secular assumption that the state of nature of is violent and that it requires an artificial order - exemplified by the authoritarian statism of Thomas Hobbes' Leviathan and the morally neutral market associated with Adam Smith's "invisible hand." These otherwise very different accounts of politics and ethics share one fundamental point: that humans are naturally individual and self-interested.http://www.abc.net.au/religion/articles ... 669759.htm
Indeed, for Hobbes humans are primarily interested in their own survival in a world where life is famously "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short." Similarly, the notion of a purely self-interested homo oeconomicus in pursuit of material wealth (central to Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations) reduces the natural desire for goodness to a series of vague, pre-rational moral feelings (as set out in his Theory of Moral Sentiments).
As such, both conceptions of the human person mark a radical departure from older ideas of "political animals" in search for mutual social recognition through the exercise of virtues embodied in practices and the exchange of gifts, as Karl Polanyi suggested in his seminal book The Great Transformation (whose contemporary relevance I have addressed elsewhere).
By contrast, the argument in my book is that humans are persons, not just "bare individuals" (as Giorgio Agamben puts it) and that the human person is naturally relational and cooperative. Rather than drawing on contemporary cognitive science or sociology, I draw on the tradition of Platonism and Christian Neoplatonism.
Against Aristotle, it was Plato who first suggested that the creative principle of being, the Good which is "the author of all things" (The Republic 508E, 511B, 516B) infuses all forms and all things with a share of goodness. As such, everything is relational precisely because everything exists by participating in the Good.
Christian Neoplatonists - from St Augustine and Boethius in the patristic era via St Thomas Aquinas and Nicolas of Cusa in the Middle Ages to the seventeenth-century Cambridge Platonists and the nineteenth-century Russian Sophiologists - took this metaphysical tradition further by arguing that the creative principle is a personal, Creator God who brings everything out of nothing into being.
The Christian Neoplatonist account of being is not univocal - that is, the same for Creator and creation - but rather analogical. The source of all existence is God who imparts shares of being and goodness. As such, being itself is in the realm of the "between," which is produced in the divine act of creation and its eternal unfolding.
For Christians, we can only have an approximate, imperfect and partial knowledge of this as a result of the Incarnation, Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. The advent of Christ marks the fusion of the divine with the human. It elevates the entire cosmos to union with God, as revealed and renewed by the unique event of the Incarnation of the Logos that is always already relational: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God" (John 1:1).
Thus my book attempts to radicalize the theological turn of philosophy by extending the "re-hellenization" of theology in a metaphysical sense. My argument is that the existence of individual human beings cannot be explained in secular, immanentist terms as some autonomous achievement owing to individual substance. Instead, the irreducible relations among human beings is best understood as the imperfect reception and return of God's originating gift of relationality.
The tradition on which this argument rests is that of patristic and medieval Christian Neo-Platonism, a tradition that preserved and expanded the original hellenization of Christianity, as Pope Benedict XVI put so aptly in his controversial Regensburg address.
Broadly speaking, the critique is that liberalism combines some of the worst aspects of individualism and collectivism. Laissez-faire capitalism reduces not only goods and labour but also land and social relations to commodities that can be freely exchanged according to their monetary market value. Linked to this is the primacy of subjective, individual rights over mutual duties and reciprocal responsibilities within groups and associations.
Since unbridled commercial exchange requires a force to eliminate resistance to it and compensate for any failures (or "negative externalities"), laissez-faire capitalism combines the "free" market with the strong state. For example, statist welfare that is run centrally and based on uniform standards and targets is subservient to capitalism because it compensates for market failure but does not change the fundamental relation between capital owners and wage labourers. As such, much of economic and political liberalism combines market atomism with state corporatism.
The pluralist alternative is, first of all, to reject both capitalist markets and collectivist states in favour of voluntary and democratically self-governing associations that cut across the false liberal divide between the purely private and the exclusively public sector by cooperating with state authorities and market actors in the delivery of services such as health, education or welfare. As Paul Hirst puts it, this approach "aims to strengthen government in and through civil society; thus civil society takes on many of the attributes of the public sphere."
Second, political authority is more effective, efficient and democratic if it is decentralized in line with the Catholic principle of subsidiarity - namely, devolving power to the most appropriate level that promotes democratic participation and protects the dignity of citizens. By contrast with centralization and exclusive central state power, pluralism shifts the emphasis to an association of agencies that share power through cooperative links according to necessity and contingency.
Third, the economy is not run according to the logic of "free-market" competition or bureaucratic state planning but instead along more mutualist lines where firms are governed jointly by investor, managers and workers and financial investment includes a social purpose.