Reading Notes on Theology and Social Theory by John Milbank, part 2

Milbank’s argument continues that so-called secular social theory actually develops within a perverted Christian theological framework. What Milbank calls “the political economy” developed as a kind of theodicy to reconcile how individuals with their inherently selfish motives could corporately act toward the common good. Enter Hobbes and Adam Smith. In Hobbes the role of State is to act as the mediating institution  – really mediating deity, “that mortal god” as Hobbes call it – between private avarice and corporate good. For Smith, the mediating institution is the Market, whose “invisible hand” is actually a parody of the classical Christian conception of divine providence.

Whereas the Catholic Church worked to restore people to a state of grace through its mediation of the sacraments, the modern institutions of the State and Market seek to regulate a state of fallenness, not restoring people but conforming their selfishness into patterns that can work for the greatest good of the greatest number of people. The State does this by monopolizing the legitimate use of coercive violence and the market does so by defining people as producers and consumers and constraining them within that system of exchange. The foundation of economics moves from the gifts of grace received sacramentally to a model of competition where nothing is free and everything must be earned, at the expense of one’s economic competitor.

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