“The genesis of this book has been a long-standing belief that the problems facing the world today—poverty, inequality, environmental degradation, hatred, violence and more—cannot even be addressed properly, much less resolved, within the confines of a capitalist economic system. Based supposedly on competition, even at its best capitalism must generate losers as well as winners. And as the winners win more they grow fewer in number while the losers increase. The richness of the resources of the earth have been so great that their rapacious exploitation for the past two hundred years has enabled us to ignore that simple logical fact. But now, as the resources grow scarce it is becoming more expensive to exploit and sell them at an increased profit, and if that is the only way we can secure potable water in the near future, we may expect more and more people to die of thirst. Or suffocate from not being able to afford air purifiers. Or quadruple the number of human beings (currently about 1 billion) who go to bed hungry every night—and much more, as these and related evils continue to grow apace.
Worse, championing competition rather than cooperation is certainly not a rational organizing idea for creating and maintaining a peaceful and just society or world order under any circumstances, nor is the notion that people are best motivated by the prospect of material goods when material goods are decidedly finite, and when sought in excess, should be mind numbing. Such ideas require an ideology, with a strong moral component to undergird them, and that ideology, generated during the Enlightenment (not coincidentally), celebrated human beings as free and autonomous, rights-holding, rational individuals, (usually adding “self-interested” to the list) with appropriate moralities, political constitutions and legal systems to support both the overall ideology and the economic system. Absent the former, the latter would in all probability have been abandoned some time ago.
It is not only those dimensions of the ideology that holds together an unjust, increasingly inefficient, environmentally destructive and democracy-degrading economic order that I will be challenging herein, but also its psychological and spiritual dimensions. The isolating independence attendant on the rise of individuals as social contractors could be suffered for some time because of the increase in wealth for many, but even more so because of the continuing impact of the Protestant Reformation, wherein each individual was thought to stand in a personal religious relation to God. But God does not seem to be as everywhere any longer He was earlier thought to be, and despite the efforts of many evangelicals, cannot be expected to return, leaving us increasingly unrelated to anything, or, as the poet A. E. Housman put it:
I, a stranger and afraid,
in a world never made.”
The above passage comes from the prologue of Henry Rosemont Jr’s. book, Against Individualism: A Confucian Rethinking of the Foundations of Morality, Politics, Family, and Religion. I’m currently reading the book, and am currently obsessed with it. I’ve been fascinated with Confucianism for a while and am happy to be learning more about it; it offers a much needed corrective to Western enlightenment individualism.