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July 10, 2009

Capitalism's Ideology (Metr. Hierotheos of Nafpaktos)

By His Eminence Metropolitan Hierotheos
of Nafpaktos and St. Vlassios

Nowadays, two prominent ways of life prevail in mankind, which have been transformed into two ideologies respectively; that is, Western individualism and Eastern collectivism. In Western individualism, characterized by liberalism, an unbridled freedom of the individual prevails, along with competition which is a detrimental factor to society overall. In Eastern collectivism state dominance prevails, which undermines people’s freedom. In both instances, man is overlooked as a person, just as human society is not regarded as a society of human persons.

These two systems of living and ideological models are both made manifest in societal reality. Liberalism prevails in the West and its “headquarters” are the United States of America – the “mecca” of globalization, while collectivism appeared in countries of the former Soviet Union, but also in countries of the Far East generally.

In both cases capital has a prominent place, except it is differentiated in who possesses it and who manages it. In liberalism, capital ends up among the few and it moves, mostly unrestrained, along the principle of market self-adjustment. In collectivism-communism, capital is state-controlled. In both cases the average person is victimized, the difference being that he is victimized either by the oligarchy of a handful of wealthy tycoons or by an insatiable State. Capitalism thus has only a callous face to show.

The view has been expressed that Capitalism is the creation of Western individualism and especially of Protestant morality, as indicated by Max Weber, and that it aspires to the accumulation of wealth by a few, while Marxism, which originated from Marx’s views, is only a reaction to Capitalism and is concerned with the whole of society. Deep down however, both these systems are the offspring of the same Western metaphysics - given that Marx was a German Jew raised in the West - however his theories, which were born in the Western “sphere”, were transfused to the East, because that was where the practice of Orthodox Christianity existed, with its principles of common ownership and communal use and could therefore be implemented.

In our day, we have become witnesses to the crumbling of both these two systems, but equally of their ideologies. In the period between 1989 and 1991, collectivism-communism collapsed in the countries of the former Soviet Union where State power dominated over people’s social and financial lives, while in our day, we are witnessing the collapse of liberalism with its mentality of “free markets” and the market’s “self-adjustment”, which functions to the detriment of society overall. Of course it should be noted that the bankruptcy of Communism cannot be regarded as a vindication of Capitalism, just as the collapse of Capitalism cannot be ascribed to Communism. It is the failure of capital’s ideology, which is totally disrespectful of people’s poverty.

At any rate, both these systems are contrary to the Orthodox teaching in its perfect form, since neither liberalism nor Marxism – as ideologies and world theories – can be accepted by Orthodox Tradition, in which extensive mention is made to avoid the passion of avarice, but also about the experiencing of love towards fellow-man, especially those who are suffering. This combination of love and freedom solves the problem altogether, given that the freedom of the individual/person without the element of love will lead to unbridled liberalism, and the love of the whole minus the freedom of the individual will result in unbridled collectivism.

To anticipate a possible objection to the above, I will admit that unfortunately, the ideology behind the capitalist system with its two forms – the individualist and the state-controlled – has in certain cases influenced and continues to influence the lives of certain Orthodox communities. This can be discerned in several contemporary monasteries also, which, instead of being examples of coenobitic living and the revival of the original community of Jerusalem, are nevertheless operating along the contemporary capitalist system’s model, in which case, we could aptly label this phenomenon “Orthodox Capitalism”.

Whereas monks proclaim and basically adhere to the virtue of non-possessing and communal possession, still, they continue to amass – for better or for worse – both lands and funds for the monasteries and take risks by playing with that property, utilizing every capitalistic-liberalistic means to increment it. In other words, monks are striving to live with indigence inside wealthy monasteries and they develop both social and political power.

This situation reminds me of certain Eastern European countries – Romania for example – where the people went hungry and were in fact non-possessors (albeit involuntarily) and yet its leaders amassed wealth and built majestic mansions-palaces (for example, Nicolae Ceausescu). However, this mentality is not favoured by the teaching of the Church and Orthodox monasticism, which asks of the monk to lack any personal possessions and the monasteries to be places of philanthropy, love and multi-faceted healing. In the Orthodox Tradition, sacred monasteries are spiritual infirmaries.

We clergymen and monks need to understand that everything legal is not necessarily ethical, but also that everything ethical – according to the rules of social ethics – is not necessarily Orthodox, from the aspect that Orthodox, Gospel ethics differs from secular ethics and is in reality ascetic by nature. We should not only condemn the amassing of material wealth by specific individuals; we also need to condemn the amassing of material wealth by “ecclesiastical communities” for display, as well as stigmatize the participation of ecclesiastical personages and communities in the games of the capitalist system and the liberal or neo-liberal market.

We Christians, especially the clergy and monks, must display in practice that which we believe in and preach, otherwise we will be dishonest and hypocrites. We must fend off the temptation to be possessed by a particular “Christian capitalist” ideology.

Source: Published by the newspaper BHMA (10/19/2008).