Lecture 21 – 29 June 2014

Adam Smith, Mythmaker

by Roland Boer

Adam Smith is responsible for one of the greatest stories ever told – the myth of the origins capitalism. He may have inherited its basic features from those who went before him, but Smith produced its definitive form. Smith’s assertion of the “natural” human propensity to “truck, barter and exchange one thing for another” is backed up not with solid argument, but with a story, a myth. It tells of an original tribe or village, in which people peacefully specialize in different tasks. Eventually, they build up stockpiles, which they then must trade. The problem is that his mythical village has never been found, nor will it be found, for it is pure fantasy.

This lecture explores Adam Smith as a storyteller, a man who also loved vignettes, fables, sayings, moral tales, and parables. He did so to peddle his ideas concerning human nature, self-interest and the “free market.” Above all, he develops two major myths, one that may be called a foundation myth and the other a grand narrative. Both of these appear again and again in his rambling work, The Wealth of Nations. Yet they do so in some tension, for Smith shifts between narratives of difference and those of identity, between those that need to narrate a passage from a different state in the past to those that assert that the past was largely the same as the present. Ultimately, Smith was engaged – like others at the time – in deep arguments concerning human nature. In his search for a new theory of human nature, he signals that human nature was itself changing with the development of capitalism.

Christianity’s Requirement of Potential: Revolution

by Josh Lourensz

Using Max Weber’s famous essay ‘The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism’ as a starting point, this lecture will argue, with a little help from early Marx and Lukács’ work on reification, that Christianity in the Modern world necessitates revolution; and not just any old revolution, but most assuredly a communist one. Bouncing off the work around Frederic Hasting Smyth’s Society of the Catholic Commonwealth, and skirting round the edges of Peter Maurin’s communitarianism, this argument will incorporate aspects of critical theory and theology to argue that the creation of a Christian’s potential for ‘good works’ is inherently bound in the advent of a radical politics.

 

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