Tag Archives: Jesus Christ

Contemporary Britain, a country dominated by Nietzsche’s untermensch (under men)

Nietzsche hated democracy because it makes possible the rule of the common man and the suppression of the superman. A term that Nietzsche uses to describe the common man is untermensch or underman, a term which was open to misunderstanding and abuse. What he meant by the untermensch was a man who lacked the potential to live the life of a ubermensch or superman. What was never understood was that for Nietzsche the distinction was based on intellect and character, not power or physical strength. Originally he named the saint, artist and philosopher as his supermen. Even his dislike of Christianity as the religion of slaves did not stop him admiring Christ as a possible superman. He admired Christ as a founder of a religion but despised Christians for slavishly following the beliefs of another. What I think is most useful is his description of the untermensch as those in thrall to a slavish culture. People incapable of independent thought. When I look at the British parliament and the legislatures of other Western nations it seems obvious that we live in an age of the untermensch.

What the untermensch share is a slavish adherence to a common culture which means that politicians of whatever political stripe, will all give the same replies to questions on policy. These are a few examples which demonstrate this clearly.

In Britain the housing market is broken and many people are forced to live in private rental sector. Properties in which they have no security of tenure and for which they pay ever increasingly exorbitant rents. Whenever it is suggested that these tenants should be given security of tenure or have their rents controlled, the same parrot cry comes from politicians, whether of the parliamentary left or right, that such controls would only make matters worse. They claim that such controls would force landlords to withdraw from the market, reducing the number of properties for rent and so making the situation worse for tenants.

Britain’s railways are the most expensive and some of the least efficient in Europe. When it is suggested that these railways should be taken out of private ownership and returned to the state, it meets with howls of derision from the collective parliamentary body. Everybody in parliament knows that the state is peculiarly unfitted to run business and businesses such as the railways are best left in private hands. The solution to the problem is as every parliamentarian knows is to transfer the railway franchises to more efficient private owners.*

There are many other examples of the politicians collective thought that could be mentioned. What is common to these practitioners of politics is a hatred of those that think independently, they expel or seek to suppress from the collectivity of politicians those who think differently. At present the parliamentary Labour party is seeking to purge itself of a leader who thinks differently. A glance at the politics of contemporary Europe provides evidence that those who think differently have no place in the mainstream political parties, they have to come from insurgent parties such as Podemos in Spain or The Five Star movement in Italy.

One common place truth of contemporary political analysis is that the political elites have lost touch with the people. It is a resentful and sullen people that turn to the populist parties of the right. These parties at leas recognise the pain of the people, something that the political parties of the left fail to do. Durkheim called socialism a cry of pain, the parliamentary socialist parties of today no longer this truth. Rather than ignoring the people, parliamentarians are following a culture that denies the validity of other expressions of the truth other than its own. Truths that might appear obvious to the people are to politicians merely uninformed opinions.

Another demonstration of the untermensch mentality is the slavish following of opinion polls. Rather than leading, politicians prefer to follow, all to often they are prepared to abandon their principles because the people as expressed a different views to theirs in an opinion poll and the peoples will  must be respected. Never do they consider that they are elected to lead the country, they prefer to follow.

The language of politics is so often that of the untermensch. One of our most popular newspapers is said to ensure that all of its content can understood by the average thirteen year. It does not tax its readers with difficult text or content. Similarly our leading politicians prefer the language of the thirteen year old which are  expressed in what are meaningless phrases or slogans. Our current Prime Minister is campaigning for re-election with a series of simple phrases, such as that she will provide ‘strong and stable government’ as opposed to the opposition who represent a ‘coalition of chaos’. She it seems feels no need to present a detailed and reasoned manifesto to the electorate.  A vague and rather meaningless manifesto will suffice and that is all she and her advisors believe is necessary is a few repeated slogans to get out the vote.

Defenders of the present political system will argue that the overwhelming majority of parliamentarians not only went to university, but elite universities and got good degrees. However the very intelligent can be members of the untermensch, as its a mentality or way of thinking and it is as much about  character as intellect. Politicians rarely stray beyond the party line or parliamentary consensus of views, they sacrifice their individuality on the altar of group think. What Nietzsche’s supermen do is to challenge the conventional thinking of the time. When politicians continually speak and think in the language of the average thirteen year old, it cannot but deform their personalities. What at first becomes a means of communicating with the masses through does through constant repetition become incorporated within their personality. They take some of the characteristics of what they affect to despise, the common or under man.

While I think that Nietzsche’s understanding of British democracy is correct today, it has not always been the case that the British parliament promotes the mediocre at the expense of the talented. Today parliament has been overtaken by the culture of the untermensch, whether its expressed in terms of loyalty to the one’s party, obedience to the will of the people or submission to the dominant Westminster belief system. In previous times there has been a much more vigorous culture at Westminster, one in which individualist thinkers could thrive and even achieve the highest office. What is needed is an ending of the stranglehold on Westminster culture of the parties of the consensus, then politicians of an independent mindset will begin to flourish there.

There are those who will have a different understanding of Nietzsche’s concept of the superman. Mine derives from the earlier writings of Nietzsche, as his understanding of the superman did change in his later writings. Obviously those who have read ‘The Will to Power’ a book created by his sister out of his notes will have a very different understanding. Personally I think that this understanding of Nietzsche’s superman is invalid and of little intrinsic merit.

* Any independent minded economist could easily expose the flaws in such thinking.

Is a Christian economics either desirable or possible?

A recent survey demonstrated that the majority of the UK population are now atheists. However there is another change which goes against the trend to a more secular society. Liberal theologians such as myself are seen increasingly as being in error and the new movement in theology is a return to what can only be termed pre-modern Christianity. A Christianity in which the Bible is seen as the last word, the ultimate expression of God’s will. A rejection of theologists such as Bultman who described the New Testament as a mythical expression of the essential Christian truths. This new movement in the protestant church is associated with the theologian Karl Barth. Within the church system  this return to Christian roots is mirrored in the growth of the pentecostal church movement, which is led by its members and dispenses with guidance of intellectual theologians. In fact I was taken aback when one Christian philosopher described Liberal theologians such as myself as being misled by demons.

Now this movement to return to the Christian roots is increasingly taking over the churches, if it becomes more successful it could result in a radical rethink of the approach to the all the sciences that deal with humanity. In England the Christian philosophers and theologians who advocate this approach believe that Christian philosophy should be at the centre of all thinking or as one philosopher said, ‘theology is about everything and philosophy is about one thing’.  Philosophers such as John Milbank believe that God’s creation of universe was not just a physical creation but  a creation of everything. One part of creation is the spiritual and all the truths about human existence and the nature of the universe are part of this spiritual creation. Truth is not found through rational enquiry but it recovered from the spiritual world created by God. The people best placed to discover these truths are the theologians, as those who seek a knowledge of God are best able to uncover God’s created truths. This philosophy is as John Milbank writes is a reversion to pre-modern Christianity, that is Christianity as it was before the renaissance.

John Milbank and his fellow radical orthodox Christians don’t want the abandonment of all the post renaissance disciplines such as economics, sociology and Cartesian philosophy, but rather a redrafting of them. The practices of these subjects should be informed by an understanding of God’s truths. This can be achieved in two ways, either economists, philosophers undergo an initial training in the truths of Christianity as discovered the theologians or Christian truths become part of the warp and woof of the subject. Universities in the 19th century were overwhelmingly Christian institutions and the economists of the period can be said to have been practising the first method of inclusion. The second would involve a radical redrafting of subjects such as economics if the practice of economics was to include Christian concepts and understandings.

Although the universities of Oxford and Cambridge were in the 19th century Anglican Christian institutions the practice of Christianity was limited to a knowledge and understanding of the ‘Thirty Nine Articles’ which were considered the essentials of the Anglican faith. If the student could recite them it was considered sufficient to warrant membership of the two universities. However if the radical orthodox Christians had control of the curriculum all students of economics would have go undergo a course of study in Christian doctrine. Economics would become a subsidiary of the department of theology. Once considered to be sufficiently imbued with Christian doctrine students would be allowed to study economics. Possibly if the radical orthodox christians had there way, the Philosophy, Politics and Economic degree (PPE) would become Theology, Politics and Economics (TPE).

However there is the warning from Aristotle when he writes at the beginning of ‘The Ethics’ that although he knows the meaning of the word good, that does not prevent him from doing bad actions. What he recommends is the instillation of virtue through habit, so good actions become habitual. In 2000 years of history Christianity has a very mixed record. There is for every compassionate and loving St. Francis, a St. Dominic, who use power and violence (in this example through the threat of and use of burning at the stake against heretics) to prevent error. George Bush’s war in Iraq was in part a Christian Crusade against the barbaric muslim regime of Saddam Hussein. In all probably compelling all economists to undergo a training in theology would at best have very mixed result, there would be a few St. Francis’s but many St.Dominic’s. Misunderstood and misguided Christian zealotry could cause as much distress as the misguided and malign doctrine of Neo-Liberalism.

A more fruitful approach would be to incorporate the key concepts of Christianity into economic practice. An economics which incorporated  Christian ethics would make it if not impossible, make it less likely that an economics such as Neo-Liberalism with its disregard for human life and dignity would ever become the dominant economic philosophy.  In the gospels Christ says that the supreme commandment is to ‘love the lord God’; a moral injunction which the theologian Caputo states is best demonstrated by loving your fellow man. What he advocates is agapé the disinterested love of our fellow men, or in the words of the Old Testament, ‘love your neighbour as yourself’. If agape was accepted as the  ‘summum bonum’ of economics, practices such as Says Law would be removed from the subject. What Says states is that in the time of a recession any legislation that seeks to prevent incomes being cut is self defeating as it only creates more unemployment as employers lay off expensive workers. The same goes for the actions of trade unions as who try to protect workers wages in a recession. What for Says is the correct remedy is to let wages fall until they become so low that the struggling businesses can now afford to take on the newly cheapened workers. These newly employed workers will spend their incomes and generate increased demand which will kickstart the economy into a recovery. Although no politician or economist would ever say that they are a follower of Says, they do put his ideas into practice. The response of all governments to the crisis of 2008/9 was to cut incomes. In Britain this was achieved by freezing the pay of all public sector workers and by transferring many workers from permanent employment to lower paid self employment. The starkest example of this cruel policy is the austerity policy forced on Greece which saw pay reduced to levels that reduced many workers to poverty.

What so many politicians forget is that the practice of economics should aim at maximising the welfare of the people. (There is a section in economics textbook entitled ‘welfare economics’ , a section conveniently ignored by most practising economists.) Today so many economic policies do the reverse, they aim to minimise the welfare of the many so as to maximise the welfare of the privileged few. Policies such as increasing government expenditure in the times of recession (to offset the fall in demand and incomes caused by the recession) would be prioritised over those which recommend the cutting of the coat to fit the cloth. The problem of austerity policies is that the suffering they cause the great majority is rarely justified. Only in exceptional circumstances should the harsh austerity policies of today be applied, in such circumstances occurred at the end of World War II, when the government needed to direct the nations income into rebuilding a war damaged economy.

What economists most need is an ethical code built into their subject. Economists as with all people will only act in the best interests of mankind, if constrained to by the rules. Without such constraints they will not be inhibited from selfish policy recommendations that benefit them and their sponsors. Far too many economists are employed by consultancies (funded by wealthy individuals) or work for financial organisations that want to see economic policies drafted to promote their own selfish interests. When for example the government increased income tax for the wealthiest to 50%, there was a howl of protest from the economists who work for these self interested organisations. They all claimed that the increase in tax would be a disincentive to enterprise. Only the writing of a strict set of ethical rules into the subject would prevent its abuse at the hands of self interested individuals. At present the very lax approach of economists to ethics leaves it open to abuse, disinterested economic analysis all to often means disregarding the normal ethical rules that govern human conduct.

Why economics needs a religious underpinning

Perhaps it is coming from a rural community in which religion was part of the backdrop to rural life, that causes me to regret the absence of religious thinking from the contemporary debate. In the countryside you are aware of a continuity with the past, it is always visible in the present. The school I attended was a church school and it stood next to the church which was centuries old. We were told that the reason for the church’s high spire was that it was to inform distant travellers that here was a welcoming Christian community. A welcoming beacon amongst the wilds of the forests of the Weald. Later I learnt that this was a Victorian romance as there would have been no forests in the Weald when the church was built. Sometimes fantasy is more real, certainly to an impressionable child. The various seasonal rites of passage were marked by religious ceremonies, the beginning of the farming year was marked by the Plough Monday Service, harvest by harvest festival and the end of the year by Christmas. Christmas was marked by a children party at the big house at which mummers performed.

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Coming into a secular world at my urban secondary school and later at a sixties university quite destroyed my childhood religious ethic and practice. The rural community of my childhood was being destroyed by commerce and my similarly religion seemed to be an echo of my past, a thing remote in a lost past. It was not helped by the undistinguished quality of the religious thinkers of the sixties, that is Teilhard de Chardin and Hilaire Belloc. Both of which were dismissed by my tutors as serious thinkers, the first for his woolly mysticism and the second because he wanted to return Britain to the Middle Ages. However my religious belief had deep roots and re-emerged from the depths of my consciousness after leaving university. Much as I loved the religion of my childhood, I came to realise that the magical realism of my childhood religion was not the religion for an adult. It was a religion that relied too much of the magical props of the supernatural, it is possible to be re-enchanted with Christianity without having to accept the magical supernatural props of a former age. Christianity can be compatible with any of the cultural manifestations of modern, it becomes the same truths can be told in a different manner.

When Caputo (The Weakness of God) writes of the weakness of God, he is expressing the strength of God in a way differently to that described in the Old Testament, his God does not have to destroy cities to be all powerful. God for him has chosen to refrain from intervening in men’s lives. This God treats men as adults, not children to be forced to coerced by supernatural terrors. Although he does not state this he implies that Christian officialdom, be it popes or priests have failed to understand the message of Christ. Dostoevsky’s grand inquisitor exemplifies the thinking of much of the priestly hierarchy. The Grand Inquisitor criticises Christ for giving men the choice of either accepting or rejecting an absolute set of values which on their salvation depends. There can be no choice in deciding whether or not to accept a Christian morality that embodies a series of absolute values, free choice means that some will unwittingly condemn themselves to eternal damnation. By torturing and killing heretics the Grand Inquisitor is more effective at fulfilling Christ’s mission that Christ himself, as people are scared into being good Christians, as death by torture and fire faces those who are not. What the Grand Inquisitor and most churchmen fail to understood is that God manifest’s his power in a different way. He he strong enough to allow men the freedom of choice, only a weak God would feel the need to coerce mankind into believing in him. Caputo’s God is the unknown God who makes himself known by pushing into human society, making his presence is known through his values. These values are known to all and it is up to men to choose to accept those values and acknowledge God’s existence. Christ (God) wants followers who choose him freely not a group of scared rabbits.

Theologians such as Caputo only claim to be offering one understanding of God, they realise that there can be others. They don’t need the threat of fire to suppress possible heresies. It is an understanding best expressed by Hick (The Metaphor of God Incarnate) as the ‘universal salvic’. His salvic includes the deities of other religions as he believed that they all express the same essential religious truth. Strength comes from the persuasiveness of argument not through the exercise of power.

The default assumption is that theology has to learn from the contemporary sciences and modify its content in the light of current changes in philosophy etc. John Caputo in the spirit of the times has written a post modern theology, entitled ‘What would Jesus a Deconstruct?’. Movement in the other direction is never assumed necessary yet it is an equally valid to assume that social scientists such as economists could learn from the theologian, could they not learn from some borrowing from the learning of the past. The Christian father’s such as St. Augustine wrote about the nature of evil, something that an emotion and moral free economists never recognise as existing in human societies.

What Christian theology should be influencing is not the methodology of economics, but something more fundamental. Economists always see there subject as free floating, it’s abstract truths are ungrounded they don’t need social context or reference to the wider society. What they fail to see that the economy is part of a greater whole, unlike Christians who see human society as but part of God’s greater creation, a cog in the wheel not the wheel itself.

Their needs to be a reorientation in the basics of economics as can be demonstrated by an analysis of welfare economics. Welfare economics despite its name has little to do with the welfare of mankind, it is only a theory of how to optimise production. It is possible in theory to draw a production possibility frontier, which represents maximum output of different combinations of goods. Peoples welfare is maximised at any point along the frontier as that represents the largest amount of goods that can be produced by a specific combination of the factors of production it is up to society to choose the desired combination of goods, as to the economist any point along that frontier is equally desirable as it maximises the output of both consumer and capital goods (a,b,c d is inefficient and e is impossible)

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Their needs to be a reorientation in the basics of economics as can be demonstrated by an analysis of welfare economics. Welfare economics despite its name has little to do with the welfare of mankind, it is only a theory of how to optimise production. It is possible in theory to draw a production possibility frontier, which represents maximum output of different combinations of goods. Peoples welfare is maximised at any point along the frontier as that represents the largest amount of goods that can be produced by a specific combination of the factors of production it is up to society to choose the desired combination of goods, as to the economist any point along that frontier is equally desirable as it maximises the output of both consumer and capital goods. What is notable is what it leaves out, it’s only a two dimensional diagram that can only show a tiny part of the desired outcomes for human society. Christianity reminds us that there are other goods that are desirable. In the words of the gospel of Matthew (6, 19-24)
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust [a] destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
This is the command not to overvalue material goods, but to invest time and money in those activities that directly benefit humanity now. It is a reminder that economists undervalue those services that cannot be priced, the caring and health services. Why do economists advocate private health care, because of intellectual laziness? It’s easy to value the contribution of health to the economy when it is sold as a commodity like any other marketable good. Profit or private profit is easy to calculate when health care is a matter of calculating costs and prices. The fact that the majority of the population is excluded from good health care under systems of private health care, because they are priced out of the market is irrelevant. A Christian underpinning to economics would remind economists that there are some goods that cannot be priced and that the price cost benefit matrix is often irrelevant to the valuation of goods and services.

Free market or Neo-Liberal economics values inequality, income inequality is justified in the sense that each gets paid according to the value the Market places on their services. Therefore the neurological surgeon gets paid far more than the cleaner. However the market makes some strange decisions that seem hard to justify. Why are financiers and other speculators paid such huge salaries when their contribution to society seems so minimal? Why are workers in the caring industry paid so little (often less than a living wage), when their contribution to society is so great. A different measure is needed of the value of labour. One clue to this revaluation comes from the Bible. In Genesis, God is said to have created man in his own image, not an exact physical copy as Maimonides (The Guide to the Perplexed) states, but a being that as with God has consciousness. A being that is conscious of the consequences of its actions, a being that is capable of directing its actions to,achieve a particular end. If all are created in God’s image this implies an equality between human beings all are valued equally by God as he made them in his image. This suggests that their needs to be a value system that counters the harsh inequality of the market. A system that sanctions the regulation of wages to ensure that all that work can earn a living wage.

What a religious or Christian origin would give economics is a different starting point, a starting point rooted in the valuing of humanity. Then perhaps a Milton Friedman could no longer justify President Pinochet’s torture and slaughter of dissidents as a necessary first step to establishing a free market society. There are some economic policies that can never be justified.