Economics, Philosophy and Foundations of Democracy
[16.12.2008, Marcel Guarnizo, LECTURES]

Read the lecture presented by Rev. Marcel Guarnizo, Chairman of the Educational Initiative for Central and Eastern Europe, at the Conservative Economic Quarterly Lecture Series (CEQLS) held by the Conservative Institute of M. R. ©tefánik in Bratislava. The lecture is available also as a video here.

I. Introduction

The mission of the “Conservative Institute as I understand it, is to promote conservative views in society while promoting also liberal views on economics. I think this mission statement, raises many profound questions. For to conserve is a verb, it is an action. A conservative person likes to conserve things. But it is used today, also as an adjective, as in “I am a conservative”, and thus it intends to signify certain principles.

So what are these principles that ought to be conserved? And where did they come from, since we only have to conserve them rather than invent them? How to conserve them and why? Conserve them from what? And what will happen if they are not conserved?

I submit that what ought to be preserved is the great legacy of Western civilization. A civilization, which has yielded, principles and institutions unparalleled in human history.

I will argue that there are essentially three integral parts to this legacy and that their powerful combination is what constitutes the greatness of the West. It is the preservation and return to these three elements that constitute the only hope of promoting and strengthening free, just and democratic societies today.

The foundational components of any democracy, I will argue, are three interlocking and necessary elements: A sound economic, political and cultural foundation.

Of these three it is the latter that is the key. The cultural foundation is the element that sustains and nourishes the economic and political foundation. And finally that the cultural foundation is composed of two necessary elements in turn, namely the religious patrimony of the West and it’s philosophical heritage.

I realize this thesis may be quite contrarian to the democracy building project that has largely been promoted by the Western powers in Central and Eastern Europe. Mostly, their effort focused on the promotion of free-market economies and political reform. The latter measured to a great degree by free-elections and some form of independent judiciary system.

Authors such as Francis Fukayama, after revisiting his theories of “The End of History and the Last Man”, has argued that in reality democracy in the end comes down to economics. Economics will be enough. Economic progress, spurred by technology, will bring about a demand for greater political participation which will cause political reform. This reform in turn, will yield secular liberal democracies. Furthermore, he believes that secular liberal democracies will also guarantee peace to the world.

Fukayama argues that once a society reaches a $6,000 per capita income, it will have achieved development, industrialization, higher levels of education, universal literacy, a middle class, and property rights. This economic progress will like a law of physics lead to democracy. I.e. Economics is the road to democracy.

Fukayama speaks of the end of history as the consequence of achieving these economic benchmarks. For at these economic levels, liberal democracy will be established and man will no longer be unsatisfied and restless, and therefore he will have no more reason for war. Perpetual peace will be upon humanity. After this economic achievement man will be at the end of his road. With nothing higher to be expected, he will be as Fukayama calls him the Last Man of the End of History. In fact Fukayama even knows the address, the home of the last man, the nest as he calls it, which is being prepared for him—states Fukayama—” The end point of the end of history will be the European Union”.

If this is so, Slovakia has great reason to rejoice as your average per capita income as of last year was estimated at $19,800; and you are also members of the European Union, therefore Fukayama heaven, has dawned upon you.

Oddly enough this reductionistic vision of man shares a materialistic vision of humanity that is in the end not dissimilar from the deterministic economics driven notion of man and history, of the Soviets. This last Fukayama man, looks awfully similar to an old man we knew twenty years ago, the “homo economicus” of the Soviets.

Ex-communist spy and defector, Whittaker Chambers in his book “Witness”, insisted that the crisis in the West, “…exists to the degree in which the western world actually shares the Communist’s materialist vision, and is so dazzled by the logic of the materialist interpretation of history, politics, and economics…Economics is not the central problem of this century.”1

It may seem odd to make such an affirmation in the midst of a global financial crisis. But it is precisely this that Chambers warns against, “The Communist vision has a mighty agitator and a mighty propagandist. They are the crisis…the crisis impels.”2 The crisis is the catalyst for the renewed call to socialist action. Writes Chambers, “The revolutionary heart of Communism …is a simple statement…it is necessary to change the world… the tie that binds them (the communist)…is a simple conviction: It is necessary to change the world.”3

We can see already the resurgence of neo-socialism, and socialism around the world. The financial crisis has been the catalyst for the nightmare to return to the imagination of Western man. As you know just last month, socialist Argentinean President Cristina Kirchner moved to confiscate an estimated 30 billion dollars of the private pension funds of the workers in Argentina, this after a democratic vote of congress. She argued that Argentina in doing so, was leading the way and setting an example, on how to deal with the financial crisis.

Contrary to the reductionist economic vision of democracy, I will argue, that it is the third block of democracy; the cultural foundation, that is most critical. Namely the religion and philosophy of the West. And that from this legacy came both the “spirit of democracy” and the “spirit of capitalism” which are crucial to the integral notion of democracy today. I believe we must move away from secular political democracy or political liberalism as John Rawls called it to usher in what I would call post-secular democracies; and that to do this, a deep understanding of the interrelation between economics, politics and philosophy is critical.

Much about the historical roots of Europe and the West are dismissed or not known today and therefore much of what ought to be preserved has been depicted as precisely what ought to be discarded. G. K. Chesterton once remarked that the problem with the modern world is not so much that it has lost its way home but that it actually has forgotten the address.

II. Towards a Metaphysical Notion of the West

Therefore what is the West?

A “What?” question- is fundamentally a metaphysical or philosophical question. For it seeks the elements that remain constant and foundational, as opposed to the contingent, accidental or ever changing temporal realities of that which we seek to define.

If I would ask what is a cat? And you replied that it’s extension is 50 cm, I would still not know what a cat is. What a thing is cannot be answered by providing information about the accidental (changing) characteristics or qualities of the thing or object you are trying to define. Therefore knowing it’s geographical extension will not be enough.

Likewise the question of what is the West? or what is Europe? cannot be answered only in terms of geographical extension.

Former Spanish President Jose Maria Aznar put it this way: “The West is not a geographical concept. The West is a system of existing values in a society. It is a culture. It is not the expression of the spirit of any one nation., neither is it the exclusive patrimony of anyone. The Western values are universal.”4

The West and Europe where initially one and the same. But as you know the West now extends beyond the political boundaries of Europe and does not exist as an individual geographic reality on the map. The West covers today the United States of America, Latin America and places as far as Australia and New Zealand. The West is a cultural reality, that goes beyond it’s geographical description. In his classic “The Clash of Civilizations” Samuel Huntington argues that, “A civilization is a cultural entity…a civilization is a culture writ large.”5 A civilization is “…the values, norms, institutions, and modes of thinking…”6 If this is correct, what defines the West is therefore it’s cultural component, and if so, we have every reason to believe that conserving the culture of the West is foremost, if we are to preserve Western civilization.

III. Ex Corde Ecclesiae and the Foundation of the West

The Second question at hand follows from the first. How did the West come about? It is important in the battle of ideas and the preservation of ideas, to find out where these ideas came from and how they were propagated. It is generally acknowledged by scholars nearly in every field, that the West has been composed of the triumvirate of Roman law, Greek philosophy and the Judeo-Christian tradition.

But it is important to remember that when Europe came to be, Rome had fallen and the Greek Golden Age had long ceased to be a reality. So it was not as if the Greeks, the Romans and the Church of the west got together to jump-start Western civilization. Only the Church of the West was left standing after the collapse of the empires. And it was the Church of the West that rescued the Roman and Greek heritage, elevating them and preserving them for successive generations. As it were, it was the Church of the West that gave birth to Europe. In fact as Huntington reminds us, “The term “the West” is now universally used to refer to what used to be called Western Christendom.”7

Professor Jurgen Habermas the last survivor of the Frankfurt school of philosophy and a self-described methodical atheist, makes the same crucial point, “From a sociological point of view, the modern forms of consciousness encompassing abstract law, modern science, and autonomous art could never have developed apart from the organizational forms of Hellenized Christianity and the Roman Church, without the universities, monasteries and cathedrals. This is especially true for the development of mentalities… Christianity has functioned for the normative self-understanding of modernity as more than a mere precursor or a catalyst.” 8

The point of professor Habermas is critical, for the Roman Church birthed Europe as a mother births a child and not merely as a mid-wife assisting during the delivery. It was not that the Church simply mediated the birth of Europe, but rather “ex-corde ecclesiae” (from the heart of the Church) Europe came into being. In fact without the Roman Church there would be no such thing as Europe or the West. The Judeo-Christian tradition of the Church is not just one of three elements that came together by spontaneous generation, it is in fact from the bosom of the Church that the Europe was born.

It would be the Church of the West, that would imbue Europe with it’s own mind and spirit. The Roman Church has helped to educate, nurture and protect the West for now 2,000 years. It is no coincidence that the religion of the West was that of its mother the Roman Church. We largely have the religion of our parents as well. But as any mother the Roman Church molded and taught the West a mentality, it made it’s heir a repository of an intellectual and human patrimony unsurpassed in human history.

1. The Political Foundation of the West and “The Spirit of Democracy”.

Professor Habermas in his “Time of Transitions” eloquently argues for the Judeo-Christian origin of the spirit of democracy, he writes, “… the individual morality of conscience, human rights, and democracy is the direct heir to the Judaic ethic of justice and the Christian ethic of love. This legacy, substantially unchanged, has been the object of continual critical appropriation and reinterpretation. To this day, there is no alternative to it. And in light of the current challenges of a post-national constellation, we continue to draw on the substance of this heritage. Everything else is just postmodern chatter.”9

The equal dignity and worth of every human life and the development of the concept of the human person, which is at the heart of a democracy, were not developed before the advent of the Christian revelation. The natural equality and freedom of all human beings was largely unknown to the ancient world. The notion that the power of the State must be limited, and that it exists in the service of man and not man in the service of the state were uniquely novel notions. That man was free and his ends exceeded the ends of the State and possibilities of the State was not the ethos of pre-Christian political understanding.

Rodney Stark an American sociologist of religion and also not a believer, describes it thus, “Encouraged by the Scholastics and embodied in the great medieval universities founded by the church, faith in the power of reason infused Western culture, stimulating the pursuit of science and the evolution of democratic theory and practice.”10

It is common today to be deceived in thinking that democracy is an ex-novo creation of the Enlightment and modernity, and that it owes nothing to the past. It is really true that the democratic spirit is a lot older than we may think. In fact modern day democracy may be standing on the shoulders of giants.

The rule of law so critical to democratic rule, also has its origins and initial development in the ancient past of the Judeo-Christian tradition, notably in the Decalogue of the Mosaic law. But the medieval legacy of The “Magna Carta” of 1215, was also an amazing achievement in political participation and the rule of law. It was perhaps the most influential source for the further development of Constitutional Law and Common Law in the English speaking world.

Numerous constitutions including the American Constitution were greatly influenced by its results. And an even earlier political legacy is owed to “The Charter of Liberties” of the year 1100. The final signing of the Charter had eleven people serving as witnesses, three of them were bishops of the Church.

When you read these documents and their subsequent versions, you can see the incredible development of the rule of law, so necessary for a functioning democracy. The codification of laws to protect, property rights, freedom for the Church from the ruler’s interference, as well as laws dealing with the repeal of inheritance taxes, anti-corruption clauses, freedom of trade and movement of persons and the famous “security clause” which limited the power of the king are of this medieval origin. Pillars of law, such as the right of “habeas corpus”, and the right to “due process” are guaranteed in these ancient documents. Furthermore the body or Common Council, that was serving as checks and balances to the power of the King, would eventually lead to the creation of the first parliament.

One of China’s leading scholars quoted by Rodney Stark in his recent book, “The Victory of Reason” describes his quest for answers as to the West’s success, “One of the things we were asked to look into was what accounted for the success, in fact, the pre-eminence of the West all over the world. We studied everything we could from the historical, political, economic and cultural perspective. At first, we thought it was because you had more powerful guns than we had. Then we thought it was because you had the best political system. Next we focused on your economic system. But in the past twenty years, we have realized that the heart of your culture is your religion: Christianity. That is why the West is so powerful. The Christian moral foundation of social and cultural life was what made possible the emergence of capitalism and then the successful transition to democratic politics. We don’t have any doubt about this.”11

2. The Economic Foundation of the West—The “Spirit of Capitalism”.

But it was not only “the spirit of democracy” that would originate from the culture of the West. The “spirit of capitalism” finds also its ancient origin in the Judeo-Christian tradition and its development in Medieval Christendom.

The term “spirit of capitalism”, was popularized by Max Weber’s theory in “the Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism”. His study was premised on the notion that capitalism arose from the religious and ethical convictions of Calvinism.

Weber defines the “spirit of capitalism” as a radical desire to make money for the sake of money.

“Man is dominated by the making of money, by acquisition as the ultimate purpose of his life. Economic acquisition is no longer subordinated to man as the means for the satisfaction of his material needs. This reversal of what we should call the natural relationship…is evidently as definitely a leading principle of capitalism as it is foreign to all peoples not under capitalistic influence.”12

Not withstanding the popularity of Weber’s theory upon closer scrutiny many have shown it to be historically and philosophically inaccurate.

Philosophically, I would argue that this vocation to money as an end is not an accurate characterization of the capitalist mentality. To have profit as a motivation in business decisions is needed for sustainability, but this does not in any way prove that money is being sought as the final end. Money I would argue continues to be a means to an end. Money is never a final end. I would argue that the final end is the pursuit of happiness. Some may think that money is the means to happiness but that is altogether different from anyone seeking money as a final end.

Historically it is also inaccurate for capitalism seems to have preceded the Protestant Reformation by centuries. Calvinism could therefore not be the cause of capitalism. I will be following closely Rodney Stark’s historical evidence delineated in “The Victory of Reason” to make this very point. Stark clearly shows how Calvinism came centuries after capitalism had already developed in the West.

Writes Stark, “Some have found the roots of capitalism in the Protestant Reformation; others have traced it back to various political circumstances. But if one digs deeper, it becomes clear that the truly fundamental basis not only for capitalism but for the rise of the West was an extraordinary faith in reason.”13

The Theoretical Foundation of Economic Freedom

The Roman Church taught that reason was the supreme faculty of man. And that it was to be applied to thinking, discerning and understanding where possible, progressively better through study and reflection God’s will and plan for humanity as well as the created order which possessed intelligibility given by its Creator. The Church had from the beginning enormous faith in reason. The Church never saw reason as a threat to its revelation. In fact the Church of the West, would eventually condemn the doctrine of those who held that philosophical truth or truths of reason and truths of faith could contradict. The Church believed that truths of reason and faith having the same origin in God could never contradict, because God cannot contradict himself. Revelation gave direction, orientation and a mission, to its followers. There was a job to be done, no more waiting to be endured, the time was short and the road long.

Stark claims that the religion of the West was “oriented to the future”. It was oriented towards progress and development. It was keen on acquiring knowledge and progress in understanding, not only of God’s plan and revelation but also as I mentioned, of the world they believed He had created. The Judeo-Christian tradition was given the divine injunction to subdue creation in the service of man. This would require great enterprise, technology and the studious application of reason to reality in all its aspects.

The created world for the Western believer was a challenge to be met. The world was a book that could be read, it’s order deciphered. This mindset would provide the necessary mentality for the possibility of progress, technology and science. Most other religions had cyclical notions of history or were wedded to their past in ways that impeded this psychology of progress.

Writes Stark, “The rise of capitalism was also a victory for church-inspired reason, since capitalism is in essence the systematic and sustained application of reason to commerce—something that first took place in the great monastic estates.”14

These monastic estates he argues, constitute the initial stages of capitalism in the IX century, which would then blossom into the late medieval “industrial Revolution” in England and the flourishing of the international and national banking industries and free markets, in Italy and Northern Europe in the 13th and 14th centuries. Stark cites scholar after scholar who “established the fact that so many of the essential features of capitalism such as, individual enterprise, advances in credit, commercial profits, speculation etc.-are to be found from the twelfth century on, in the city republics of Italy—Venice, Genoa, or Florence.”15

Writes Stark, “Even though Weber was wrong, he was correct to suppose that religious ideas played a vital role in the rise of capitalism in Europe. The material conditions needed for capitalism existed in many civilizations in various eras, China, Islam, India, Byzantium…But none of these societies broke through and developed capitalism…”16

Stark lists four great victories of reason that brought about the “capitalist spirit” in the West.

    1) “The first was the development of faith in progress within Christian theology.”

    2) “The second was the way that faith in progress translated into technical and organizational innovations, many of them fostered by the monastic estates.”

    3) ‘The third was, that thanks to Christian theology, reason informed both political philosophy and practice to the extent that responsive states, sustaining a substantial degree of personal freedom, appeared in medieval Europe.”

    4) “The final victory involved the application of reason to commerce, resulting in the development of capitalism within the safe havens provided by responsive states.” 17

Explains Rodney Stark, “The critical point in all of this is methodological…to the extent that religion inspires efforts to comprehend God’s handiwork, knowledge will be forthcoming, and because to comprehend something fully it is necessary to explain it, science arises as the “handmaiden” of theology.”18

The Church of the West argues Stark was deeply involved in the birth of capitalism.

    1) In the 9th century through the large monastic estates which because of the immense increase in agricultural production due to major innovations in farming techniques led to surpluses. These would begin to sell these surpluses and specialize in those products that had greater demand. This led to profits which would lead the monastic estates to a cash economy. A shift from barter to cash would be the first thing that would facilitate the advent of capitalism. For barter does not lend itself to an easy transaction or sustainable trade. 2) The monasteries began to reinvest their profits back into their properties and produced even greater wealth and capital. As their wealth increased, the monasteries began to lend money, “…this led many monasteries to become banks, lending to the nobility.”19 With the increase in productivity also came specialization and trade. Soon around these monasteries cities would begin to appear in Europe.

    3) Monastic estates were enormous enterprises as they owned vast amounts of land, the production and commercial tasks were an enormous entrepreneurial adventure. Management skills and specialization of labor would become a real issue. Unlike the nobility which passed management to succeeding generations on the basis of inheritance. The monasteries and the management of their operations worked on a meritocracy basis. Real managerial and administrative skills were being developed and put to use, the most talented being selected for the enterprise.

    4) By the 13th century loans were taking the form even of mortgages—where the borrower would borrow money against his land. It is interesting to note that Stark mentions that the monks increased their properties on occasion through foreclosures.

    5) Finally hired force was acquired and incorporated into the economy. “In this way, the medieval monasteries came to resemble remarkably modern firms—well administered and quick to adopt the latest technological advances.” 20

Theoretically significant also was the advent of the notion of the dignity of work and the importance of labor, which was unknown before the Church of the West. Work before the Judeo-Christian tradition appeared on the scene, was seen as an undignified practice, mainly carried out by slaves. To work was a lowering of one’s status. And this explains also why more technically efficient ways of producing were not a pursued by the ancients, neither in Greece or Rome. Work was the endeavor of slaves and there is no need to invest time in trying to make slave work more efficient.

The scholastic theologians argued adamantly for the recognition of the right to private property, and the elements of commerce. This application of the mind to commerce was critical for only from good theory could sound economic practice develop. The theoretical difficulties had first to be cleared for capitalism to develop freely.

St. Thomas Aquinas the greatest of scholastic philosophers would reason thus in the 13th century regarding the necessity of private property, “Firstly, because everyone takes more care of things for which he is privately responsible…Secondly, because human affairs are more efficiently organized when each person has his own distinct responsibility to discharge. Thirdly, because there is a greater chance of keeping the peace when everyone is content with his own matters.” 21

Italian Capitalism

In the Italian centers such as Genoa free-economies would explode. “From 1191 to 1214 Genoa’s trade increased at a rate of 6 % a year…” Sea trade alone in Genoa by 1293 produced an income “…ten times the total annual income of the French royal treasury!” 22

Venice had created a vast manufacturing and textile industry it would produce and trade “…eyeglasses, crystal, iron, brass, shoes, jewelry, weapons, leather goods…”23 all over Europe. This long distance trade and risky voyages over seas or on land would bring about the development of insurance. As early as the 13th century we have historical evidence of the ledgers of firms which would underwrite these risks, insuring the property being transported.

Florence was no exception. “Florence became a monument to the productive capacities of capitalism, becoming a major center for manufacturing woolens and silks, and by the thirteenth century, Florence’s banks had established branches all across Western Europe.” 24

The ruling family in Florence was the Medici family. And it is important to remember, that the Medici’s’ did not make their fortune through vast inherited estates and land. The Medici family made their immense wealth through commerce. They were one of the most prestigious and powerful banking families in all of Europe.

“At its peak in the late 13th and 14th centuries, Italian commercial power stretched as far as England, South Russia, the oases of the Sahara desert, India and China. It was the greatest economic empire that the world had ever known.” 25 “The Cambridge Economic History of Europe lists 173 major Italian banks in operation during the 14th century, not counting branches. Of these 38 were in Florence, 34 in Pisa, 27 in Genoa, 21 in Luca, 18 in Venice and 10 in Milan.” 26 It is important to note that we speak here not only of national banking but international banking as well.

It was therefore not as Max Weber believed that the Protestant ethic gave rise to capitalism but as many historians have noted it was capitalism that gave rise to the Protestant ethic. For to operate outside of the spirit and ethic of capitalism by the 16th century would be to doom oneself to economic failure.

Finally early Milan, provides a powerful image of how involved the Church was in the birth of the “spirit of capitalism”. In Milan the market place was actually, “…inside the cathedral precinct, in front of the church.” 27 In sum, ex corde Ecclesiae, came forth the spirit of capitalism.

Capitalism would eventually move North to places such as Antwerp, Ghent, Amsterdam and England centuries ahead of the Protestant schism. Carus-Wilson studying the development of capitalism in England particularly in the woolen industry did not hesitate to call it “An Industrial Revolution of the Thirteenth Century” 28 The great technical innovations in England during this period, and the immense coal industry it created, seem to amply warrant the claim.

3. The Cultural Foundation—The Religious and Hellenic Legacy of the West

I have argued that two are the elements that compose the cultural foundation of the West. Namely the Religion of the West, which gave Europe it’s origin and the philosophical heritage of Greek philosophy that was appropriated by the West. I will focus only on the philosophical heritage of the West.

This legacy, which originated in Greece, was appropriated and elevated by the Roman Church, and it was the medieval synthesis it produced, that I would regard as the philosophical heritage that needs to be recovered today. The apex of this philosophical endeavor culminated in the science then known as Metaphysics. And I would situate the height of metaphysical thought in the XIII century, specifically with the work of St. Thomas Aquinas.

Economics, politics and ethics were seen at the time as part of the areas covered by the science of philosophy. At the peak of philosophical analysis stood First Philosophy or Metaphysics. At the peak, for it’s speculative analysis studied the most noble and highest matters one could conceive. It also was regarded as the foundation of all sciences as it lent its principles and most basic notions, to all the other endeavors of human reason.

Fundamentally at least these four fundamental metaphysical conclusions belong and are foundational to the cultural heritage of the West.

The Great medieval philosophers had concluded:

    1) That reality was intelligible - it possessed (ontological truth) meaning; things in themselves were understandable and intelligently ordered, they possessed truth by virtue of their existence. This truth resided independently of the human mind’s judgment about things; Meaning and the truth of being, resided in the things themselves. They had discovered that by nature things (beings, substances), possessed natural intelligibility. The world was not chaos and mere chance; it was full of order and intelligence.

    2) That this intelligibility could be discovered by man’s intellect. That man’s intellect could properly adequate itself to reality outside the mind and know it. Man could use his senses and the application of reason to read this intelligibility. That is to say that man could discover the intelligence and order of reality. Man could see, know and understand with certainty.

    3) And finally that man could therefore pass judgments, profess statements of truth about reality based on his correct application of reason to the objective world. These judgments about the world of objects, would constitute objectively true statements (logical truth), if in correspondence with reality. Simply put he could discover objective truth.

    4) Finally, that he could make therefore universal statements about reality based on the fact that many individual things shared the same nature and would be therefore subject to the same analysis. This was fundamental as we will see for the formulation of universal objective ethical norms, as well as for the notion of the common nature of all human beings.

    Documents such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of which we recently celebrated the 60th anniversary had precisely this notion, as it’s philosophical underpinning and foundation.

    That is to say, it is impossible to draft a universal declaration for all men if they do not share the same human nature. The protection of human rights is based therefore on a deep metaphysical assumption that the nature of man is constant and not subject to accidental changes.

    These are only some of the great metaphysical conclusions the West would appropriate. But it is the abandonment of these conclusions and the science of Metaphysics as a whole that is ailing the West today. It is this that I mean by dehellenization.

IV. The Dehellenization of Western Sciences

The notion of dehellenization was brought to the world’s attention in the now renowned speech given by Pope Benedict XVI at Regensburg University.29 By the “dehellenization of Christianity” the Pontiff was alluding to the uprooting of the philosophical and more concretely Hellenic legacy Greece provided to the West. This legacy, would be developed and perfected throughout the centuries by the Scholastic philosophers and theologians of medieval Europe. The fruits of their labor and thought were an immense contribution to the economic and political order of the West.

The dehellenization Pope Benedict XVI was addressing had principally to do with the dehellenization of Theology and the “pathologies of religion” which would follow from an unsound philosophical foundation to belief in God.

Religion devoid of reasonability manifests itself in the XXI century as truly dangerous and yielding conclusions unacceptable to the human mind and contrary to the dignity of the human person. This is not only present in the current problems with Islam but also as regards dehellinized versions of Christianity. I would add that this anti-philosophical theology is also present in pre-Christian and other post-Christian religions not part of the original Judeo-Christian tradition.

But what is critical to understand is that theology per se, is only one of the sciences and the contribution of Greek thought and the medieval scholastic synthesis provide foundational notions to all the sciences, not theology alone. I wish to argue that in fact the dehellinization is not just of Christianity but also of Western thought and therefore of all the sciences and arts which constitute the patrimony of Western civilization. It is the expulsion of the medieval conclusions I delineated, that are now missing in the intellectual patrimony of the West. And it is this crisis, which constitutes the intellectual suicide of the West.

In fact Greek thought was not born in an attempt to buttress, explicate and defend their theological doctrines. Greeks such as Plato and Aristotle had of course produced works in politics, ethics, anthropology, and rudimentary science centuries before the Christian Revelation. And when they produced these they did not do so for Greek religion’s sake. The hellenization of Christianity or more accurately the baptism of Greek philosophical thought, would be posterior to the initial hellenization of ethics, politics and science centuries before Christianity.

Equally affected by this eclipse of reason are economics, politics, law and ethics, which are the interlocking and foundational sciences of the democratic order. Without sound economics, politics and culture, a democratic order cannot promote or preserve freedom and justice. The dehellenization of thought in the West yields a culture that produces pathologies not only of religion but of all the other sciences as well.

Ushering in Post-Secular Democracies

Essentially the notion of free, just and democratic societies and what I believe we need to return to and preserve, will require a paradigm shift of our present notions of secular liberal democracies to the ushering in of post-secular democracies. By post-secular democracy I mean that “...the free and virtuous society is composed of three interlocking parts—a democratic political community, a free-economy, and a robust public moral culture. The key to the entire edifice is the cultural sector. Because free politics and free economics let loose tremendous human energies, a vibrant public moral culture is necessary to discipline and direct those energies so that they serve the ends of genuine human flourishing.” 30

It is the return to this integral notion of democracy that would constitute in my view the great mission of our day. The West must usher anew post-secular democracies.

The Dehellenization of the West

For Historical reasons which I do not have the time to explore here, the “death of metaphysics” has been declared by the post-modern world. One can find the origins of this historical trajectory in the overture of Nominalist philosophy in the XIV century. This initial thrust was amplified and spread by the revolt against reason of the Protestant Reformation in the XVI century. It was systematically articulated by Kantian philosophy, which would lead to the radical subjectivism of the Idealists. Finally the Nihilism and post-modern deconstructionist project of the 20th century would appropriate this legacy of modern philosophy and carry it to its logical conclusion.

Essentially the conclusions of this trajectory would lead to the theoretical and practical rejection of Metaphysics.

The Theoretical Denial of Metaphysics

These are some of the general conclusions of this de-hellenization process:

1) That man cannot know reality and certainly not profess absolute statements of fact about reality due to the “weakness of his reason”. The post-modern world for its entire claim to seek rationality is profoundly skeptical about the possibility and powers of reason to know and therefore to make true statements about anything. It has surrendered the quest for truth because it believes the intellect is not up to the task.

The consequence of such weak mentality can be summarized in Nietzsche’s phrase that “there are no facts only interpretations”. All is relative, all is subjective, nothing can be called absolutely true, just or good. This theoretical rejection of metaphysics, leads to the rejection of its conclusions in practice. That is to say, theoretical reason the weak-minded moderns believe, is not strong enough to attain true knowledge about reality. It is a failure of reason that causes the rejection of the metaphysical enterprise of the West at a cognitive or theoretical level.

This led to the introduction of what thinkers such as Richard Rorty, in the US and Gianni Vattimo, in Italy called “weak thought”.

Santiago Zabala in his introduction to “the Future of Religion” co-written by Rorty and Vattimo summarizes well their thought, “…the assumption that all positions are equally valid because of the lack of confidence in truth constitutes the greatest success obtained by the deconstruction of metaphysics. With the end of metaphysics, the aim of intellectual activity is no longer knowledge of truth…secularization is nothing other than the history of weak thought.”31 Metaphysical questions are therefore useless, “…because of the weakness of our reason,” 32 “…we achieve full political maturity only at the moment when we succeed in doing without any metaphysical culture…”33

The proponents of “weak thought” are fully aware of the consequences for European civilization, if their project were to succeed, weak thought writes Gianni Vattimo is “…the same event that Nietzsche calls nihilism and that for Heidegger is the end of metaphysics. This event compromises the end of Eurocentrism.” 34 In fact, the end of Europe.

If Europe and the West are not as I argued simply an economic, political or geographical reality but a culture of universal values, truths and institutions enshrined in the religion and the philosophy of the West, without this culture, which is both religious and metaphysical, Europe will indeed cease to exist.

The Practical Denial of Metaphysics:

2) The second group promoting the dehellenization of European culture may not deny so overtly the possibility of discovering truth and moral absolutes. They rather insist, that there are so many different and incompatible metaphysical views about reality that the peace could not be kept in a democracy if any of them were pursued as an end for society. Tolerance and consensus could not be secured. Therefore for practical purposes we should ignore all these comprehensive claims (as John Rawls called them) and seek to allow what amounts to a least common denominator arrived to through some democratic procedure. This would constitute the practical rejection of metaphysics.

John Rawls an exponent of such a view was also seeking a world without foundations. A notion of justice that was not foundational, but rather only political. Writes Rawls in his book Political Liberalism, “A political notion of justice is what I call freestanding when it is not presented as derived from, or as part of, any comprehensive doctrine.” 35 He further states, “Comprehensive philosophical and moral doctrines likewise cannot be endorsed by citizens generally, and they also no longer can, if they ever could, serve as the professed basis of society.” 36

Comprehensive doctrines for Rawls are those that are founded on philosophical or even religious foundations. They are comprehensive because they make claims for moral absolutes that will cover comprehensively all possible cases for all people at all times. They are in this sense metaphysical non-relative claims.

V. Dehellenized Democracies and Political Liberalism

A radical shift has occurred in the practice of democracy. A radical shift from classical liberalism to what Rawls called political liberalism and from democracy to political democracy.

Political liberalism, or political democracy is essentially:

1. Only Political.
2. Based only on Positive Law.
3. And only Procedural.

A truly political issue is one for which we do not have enough evidence to declare definitively what is the path of certitude. For instance should the flat tax be 13%, 19% or more? It is debatable, only educated guesses but no absolute answer can be found. Many issues in a democracy are like this political, relative, changing and uncertain. The problem at hand is that political liberalism claims all issues in a democracy are of this nature, relative, partial, political. And therefore the name political liberalism.

Political liberalism, or secular liberal democracies or a political democracy is also solely based on positive law. That is to say that justice is determined solely by the declarations and proclamations of the law emanating from the democratic regime. Suffice that it be legal for it to be just and licit.

This philosophy was precisely what constituted the defense of the Nazis in Germany, who argued that the law of Germany permitted the crimes they committed; that their actions were perfectly legal and therefore they were guilty of no crimes. Also notoriously, positive law in the United States Constitution declared that the black man was not fully human and could therefore be enslaved, sold, traded, and even killed. They were simply to be considered the white man’s private property.

Rawls and followers of political liberalism go further, not just a political conception of democracy and law, they wish also to have a definition of personhood that is only political. Rawls defines the concept of person in political liberalism as “…someone who can take part in, or who can play a role in, social life, and hence respect its various rights and duties. Thus, we say that a person is someone who can be a citizen, that is, a normal and fully cooperating member of society over a complete life.” 37

This political definition of person Rawls offers, leaves plenty of room for the will of the majority or the State to decide what is a normal human being. What race must he be? Also what is his quota or degree of full cooperation over a lifetime that guarantees his personhood before the State, in order to be in good standing. What about the handicapped, what about the unborn, the old, the marginalized? They cannot cooperate fully as Rawls believed our duty as good citizens requires.

The history of tyranny and genocide in the XXth and XXIst century always repeats itself. First a political definition of person must be found which can be used to exclude some segment of humanity from the protections of life, liberty and justice. Having achieved this, the oppressors move to cleanse them out of society. The “useless eaters” as Hitler would term the weakest of society were deemed not to be reasonable contributors to society’s development. These were brutally exterminated, society being cleansed from them, along with the sick and the “racially inferior”, upon whom death and brutal “medical experimentation” was “legally practiced”. This, is just one of the recent pathologies of medicine, law and politics experienced by the West just over 60 years ago. We also have today, 100 million victims of communism worldwide as a stark reminder, of what political definitions of personhood lead to.

If “fully cooperating” is a requirement as Rawls states, to be considered a person, then the millions who were declared enemies of the state or in non-compliance by the communist regime were also justly punished and killed for dissenting and not fully cooperating with the state. Under Rawls’s democracy and definition of a person as a “fully cooperating” citizen, dissent against oppressive regimes would be impossible. President Vaclav Havel’s the “Power of the Powerless” was making just that point; writes Havel.

“A specter is haunting Eastern Europe: the specter of what in the West is called "dissent". This specter has not appeared out of thin air. It is a natural and inevitable consequence of the present historical phase of the system it is haunting. It was born at a time when this system, for a thousand reasons, can no longer base itself on the unadulterated, brutal, and arbitrary application of power, eliminating all expressions of nonconformity. What is more, the system has become so ossified politically that there is practically no way for such nonconformity to be implemented within its official structures... The original and most important sphere of activity, one that predetermines all the others, is simply an attempt to create and support the independent life of society as an articulated expression of living within the truth. In other words, serving truth consistently, purposefully, and articulately, and organizing this service…it is difficult to imagine that even manifest "dissent" could have any other basis than the service of truth, the truthful life, and the attempt to make room for the genuine aims of life.” 38

As some of you know, the President of our foundation Mr. Damian Stauffenberg is related to Colonel Klaus Stauffenberg who on July 20th, of 1944 executed a plan to kill Hitler and re-take Germany from the Nazis. This resistance movement in Germany, if Rawls is correct should be viewed today as nothing more than treason.

And what about Sophie Scholl a member of the “White Rose” movement in Germany, she was guillotined by the Nazi’s at age 21 with her brother and few other dissenters for secretly distributing pamphlets at Munich University. In them she called her fellow students to wake-up and resist the darkness that had set over the German nation. Her bust is now in the great Hall of Valhalla along with those of other greats in Germans history. In a recent poll taken amongst young people in Germany, inquiring who were the greatest Germans of all time, her name came ahead of Bach and Beethoven.

Finally, Political Liberalism or secular liberal democracies are only procedural. That is to say that rights are determined or protected solely based on a democratic procedure; Was it carried out according to the rules of the game? as Rawls calls it. Procedural democracy as it were believes decisions to be unobjectionable if the right procedure was followed. Justice is obtained as a consequence of this correct democratic procedure.

As you can see in all of these political and non-metaphysical notions of person, law and democracy, any injustice can be justified. All rights can be overturned and nothing is guaranteed except by the will of the democratic process. Under these conditions you have no rights that are inalienable, all rights can be voted away. Personal freedom and liberty is completely swallowed by the Leviathan.

Rawls and political liberalism or secular liberal democracies today, believe that the entire scope and aspirations of your life do not and cannot go beyond your duties and the privileges society grants you as a citizen. Writes Rawls; “society is viewed not only as closed but as more or less complete …making room within itself for all the necessities and activities of life, from birth until death. A society is also conceived as existing in perpetuity…”39 Rawls’s vision of living in society where the State is the absolute guarantor of my entire pursuit of happiness from cradle to the grave, sounds more like a life-sentence in prison than the notion of a limited government that exists to provide a framework, where man can freely choose his just path to fulfillment.

Logically, socialists too clamor for political liberalism as the framework that will lead to their final victory. The socialist dream is the complete absorption of the individual person with all his rights. They wish nothing to stand outside of their control. They and they alone, will determine what rights you have. If we surrender inalienable rights by holding that all things are indeed relative or simply political issues, we ought not to complain when the tyranny again visits our democracies. This philosophy is the death of limited government. Democracy of this sort becomes the road to socialism.

How will we protect the natural right to private property if the positive law decrees that private property is forbidden? How to protect your right to pursue happiness if the government votes to coerce you to pursue a career you do not wish for? If the government declares atheism official policy of the state how will you preserve religious freedom, or freedom of association? How will you protect your children if you deny that parents have a natural right to be their primary educators?

Only a philosophical defense, that holds metaphysical conclusions about man’s nature, will lead to moral absolutes about the intrinsic and natural rights of man. Rights that are true and valid now and forever, rights that cannot be violated without committing grave injustice by any democratic or non-democratic procedure.

No robust defense of all these fundamental rights including the rule of law which was to be as Hayek defined it, not the rule of the arbitrary will of men but the rule by laws will survive. The laws that guard the fundamental rights of man cannot be grounded in man’s political opinions. But notice, economic or political reasoning cannot adequately defend them. Metaphysical reasoning is the critical element of the cultural foundation of democracy. It is this that will preserve freedom, justice and democracy.

VI. Some Conclusions in the Affirmative

Allow me to bullet point certain thesis for your consideration which the democratic tradition of the West still holds and taught for centuries and for which I have tried to argue this far:

    1. That civil rights are not our highest and not even the most important rights we posses. Natural rights are paramount. Rights, such as life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are not derived from civil law. That it is these inalienable rights, which by nature limit government. And they cannot be taken away because they are not given to us by any man, government or democratic procedure, they are our own, by virtue of the kind of being we are by nature. Government, I argued, exists fundamentally to protect these rights.

    2. That the measure of a democracy is not just a free-election. Free-elections gave us Hitler in Germany and Hammas in Gaza. Democratic votes do not determine what is just. Before the Russians invaded Georgia the Duma took a vote as well. And the confiscation of private pensions in Argentina was also achieved by a vote in congress. Private property and all civil rights can be voted away at any time under such a philosophy.

    3. Constitutions are not self-justifying documents. Checks and balances to the positive law must be derived from an outside law, namely the law of reason.

    4. That the most fundamental and first question participants in a democracy must accurately determine, is “Who” is the subject of a democracy and its protections by law. That is to say, when we state that essential liberties are to be protected for “all” we have a moral obligation to determine correctly who this “all” is that we speak of.

    I submit that this “all” can mean nothing more and nothing less than every identifiable member of the human specie. Regardless of that human being’s stage of development, race, color, religion, economic conditions or political affiliation.

    5. That to affirm essential rights is to immediately recognize that some rights are not essential. And that there is a hierarchical value of some rights and liberties over others. That first and the most fundamental of these, if for no other reason than because it comes first in time (temporally), is the right to be protected in one’s bodily integrity or the right to life as the it is called by the Declaration of Independence and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This should be obvious, for without this first protection against the destruction of one’s bodily integrity all other rights are irrelevant to man. As important as the right to private property may be, it will mean nothing to me if I am destroyed before I reach the age to own my first pair of tennis shoes.

    Another example, of what use is the right of association or free speech if I am a slave. Some rights must be secured in law before others.

    6. That against an ever growing list of “new rights” which now seek to include even “animal rights”, only an antecedent and metaphysical notion of justice will help us discern true claims of justice from false ones.

    7. It has been often suggested that in order to reach conclusions about justice we must appeal to experience or efficiency. We must run the experiment and see what happens. I argue that this is of course true of the positive sciences (physics, astronomy, chemistry and even business ventures)—In these you run the experiment and see if the data concords with the theory. But this methodology is deadly wrong when dealing with human affairs. This, for the simple reason, that man is not a subject of social experimentation.

The communist experiment need not be run ever or again, to detect its death-dealing flaws. In fact many in the West still believe communism’s inhumanity was not due to the theoretical fallacy but that the experiment was not carried out properly. If this were so, perhaps it would be wise to have another go at Ceausescu or Pol Pot or Stalin. No, we must be able to know before we act, as we cannot experiment with human lives.

VII. Some Proposals for Solutions

1) Against the still enduring legacy of the socialist revolution and the relativization of all matters in society coming largely from Western Europe and the U.S., only a solid cultural foundation will offer any resistance. An urgent return to the religion and the metaphysical realism of the West, combined with the promotion of free-economies and a sound political foundation is what is now needed to preserve civilization. We need to see that socialism today follows a Gramschian strategy. A strategy that Gramschi believed would assure victory, namely the undermining of the cultural foundation of the West. This he thought would secure the eventual political and economic take-over.

2) This defense of the West, will therefore require an alliance of economists, politicians, and academia. We must return to a new paradigm, of post-secular democracies. And I believe no place in the world has a greater chance of doing this than Central and Eastern Europe. I believe you must lead Western Europe out of its intellectual and moral suicide. You should not follow Western Europe off the cliff. If the culture is the measure of the vitality and strength of a nation, it is clear to me, that you are outperforming the Western Europeans. Although many of us would also argue, that the economic freedom of CEE nations is far greater than the rest of the Europe.

3) Creative minorities may play a big role in this shift to post-secular democracies. I believe think tanks and others in the civil society need to devote themselves to the study of these three sectors of free societies. An integral notion of democracy must be recovered and taught to a new intelligentsia. It is this that in my view makes the work of institutes such as the “Conservative Institute” so important.

In this recovery the Catholic Church in Central and Eastern Europe must not seek faith-based models that rely on socialism as its foundation. It must openly teach the incompatibility of Christianity with both socialism and radical secularism.

4) This cultural deterioration of Europe may also pose at present an existential threat to European civilization, as Western Europe does not have the strength to assimilate the vast number of immigrants entering Europe today; immigrants which are quite convinced of their own non-Western culture. The cultural relativism that this anti-metaphysical mindset has created, makes impossible the defense of European civilization for many. Europe today cannot do what America accomplished when it assimilated vast numbers of immigrants. One, because the vast immigration to America, was largely European. And secondarily, because the robust public moral culture of America allowed the U.S. to assimilate rather than disintegrate.

5) I am a friend of recommending authors and books, because a new intelligentsia requires new intellectual orbits; different authors different books. So let me give you one author and in this I am at one with professor Habermas who in his book a “Time of Transitions,”also seems to recommend him;

“Reading Aquinas’ Summa Contra Gentiles, I am struck by the complexity, the level of differentiation, the gravity, and the rigor of the dialectical argument. I am an admirer of Aquinas. He represents that form of intellect that could vouch for its own authenticity. That such a tower of strength among the shifting sands of religiosity is nowhere to be found today is simply a fact.“ 40

And a problem I would add, that needs urgent resolution for outside of a realist metaphysical horizon, all that will be left is what Leo Strauss saw Nietzsche ushering in, as the death of Europe, “…our own principles, including the belief in progress, will become as relative as all earlier principles had shown themselves to be" and "the only way out seems to be...that one voluntarily choose life-giving delusion instead of deadly truth, that one fabricate a myth.” 41

I believe perhaps what stands today between myth and reality for Western Europe, are the seekers of truth and freedom in Central and Eastern Europe. Who can today fearlessly bear witness to the Western Europeans and the world, of what a “civilization” founded on “the death of god and metaphysics” is really like. The post-modern radicals in the West think they have tasted the overcoming of religion and philosophy in Western Europe, but you can teach them what a far cry that is from the real attempt at the death of a civilization.

The Western radicals think they have seen that dark world and they like it, the Eastern Europeans can awake them from their deadly delusion.

Thank you for listening.

photo/mg01.JPGRev. Marcel Guarnizo is a Chairman of the Educational Initiative for Central and Eastern Europe.

The lecture was presented at the Conservative Economic Quarterly Lecture Series (CEQLS) held by the Conservative Institute of M. R. ©tefánik in Bratislava on December 10, 2008.

The lecture is available also as a video here.


[1] Whittaker Chambers, Witness (Washington, DC: Regnery Publishing, 1980), pp. 17.

[2] Ibid., pp. 11.

[3] Ibid., pp. 11.

[4] Jose Maria Asnar, America Latina: Una Agenda de Libertad (Madrid. Faes, 2007), pp.13.

[5] Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations (New York: Simon & Schuster paperback edition, 2003), pp.41.

[6] Ibid., pp. 41.

[7] Ibid., pp. 46.

[8] Jurgen Habermas, Time of Transitions (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2006), pp. 149-151.

[9] Ibid., pp. 150-151.

[10] Rodney Stark, The Victory of Reason (New York: Random House, 2006), Introduction pp. 10.

[11] Ibid., pp. 235.

[12] Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (New York: Routledge Classics, 2004), pp. 19.

[13] Rodney Stark, The Victory of Reason (New York; Random House, 2006), Introduction pp.10.

[14] Ibid., Introduction pp. xi.

[15] Ibid., Introduction pp. 12.

[16] Ibid., Introduction pp. 13.

[17] Ibid., pp. 15.

[18] Ibid., pp. 58.

[19] Ibid., pp. 61.

[20] Ibid., pp. 78. [21] St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, II:66:1-2.

[22] Rodney Stark, The Victory of Reason, pp. 90

[23] Ibid., pp. 86.

[24] Ibid., pp. 92.

[25] Ibid., pp. 93.

[26] Ibid., pp. 113.

[27] Ibid., pp. 120.

[28] Ibid., pp. 152.

[29] See Pope Benedict XVI, Faith, Reason and the University Memories and Reflections (Regensburg University, September 12, 2006)

[30] George Weigel, Free and Virtuous Society (London; Tyburn Lecture, May 19, 2004)

[31]Richard Rorty and Gianni Vattimo, The Future of Religion (New York: Columbia University Press, 2005), pp. 10-11.

[32] Ibid., pp. 10-11.

[33] Ibid., pp.6.

[34] Gianni Vattimo, The Future of Religion (New York: Columbia University Press, 2005), pp.46.

[35] John Rawls, Political Liberalism, (New York: Columbia University Press, 1993), Introduction pp. 42.

[36] Ibid., pp. 10.

[37] Ibid., pp. 18.

[38] Vaclav Havel, The Power of the Powerless (1978).

[39] John Rawls, Political Liberalism (New York: Columbia University Press, 1993), Introduction pp. 18.

[40] Jurgen Habermas, Time of Transitions (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2006), pp. 154.

[41] Leo Strauss, Relativism, 13-26 in the Rebirth of Classical Political rationalism, ed. Thomas L. Pangle, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press), pp. 25.

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