Is there such a thing as a beautiful thrashing? I wouldn’t have thought so, but Nock does it repeatedly in Memoirs of a Superfluous Man. All sorts of things about American culture irritate him, but he criticizes them with superb prose, erudition, and a measure of detached amusement that make the criticism even more effective.
In this regard, I would recommend his commentary of a cultural phenomenon that he refers to as “economism.”
In Memoirs, Nock wrote that extensive conversations with a good friend (over pints of Bass ale) had “impressed” on him the “basic fact that western society was entirely given over to economism.” Western society, Nock lamented, now “interpreted the whole of human life in terms of the production, acquisition and distribution of wealth.” It is what we commonly refer to as “materialism,” but Nock preferred “economism” because he thought “materialism” too “ambiguous and inexact.”
Nock then proceeded to criticize economism relentlessly. In fact, it’s one of the most repeated themes in Memoirs.
Now, you need to remember that Nock is considered the godfather of modern libertarianism. Modern libertarianism is largely marked by the input of Ludwig von Mises and, to a lesser extent, Friedrich Hayek and Murray Rothbard. These three are the most famous modern Austrian economists, and their thought has made an indelible mark on thoughtful libertarianism today.
One of the biggest criticism of Austrian economics, and their libertarian political arm, is that it is obsessed with economics. Here, for instance, is a statement from a good Catholic that I ran across about two years ago: “Austro-libertarianism is more than just an economic theory: it is what amounts to a total worldview, and like its materialist twin, socialism, is in direct competition with the Catholic Faith.”
The statement is a commonplace criticism. I used to say things just like it. It was my honest opinion of Austrian economists: they’re essentially materialists who think whatever is economic is best. Heck, who think whatever is economic is the only thing that matters.
But then enter Nock, the godfather of modern libertarianism. He loathed such a worldview and eschewed riches in his life (as near as we can tell; he didn’t write much about his life, to say the least). He wasn’t devoted to money and held in contempt people and societies that were.
Nock, however, wasn’t an Austrian economist. He was a social critic and brilliant essayist who took an interest in things economic (particularly drawn to the one-tax theories of Henry George). But there are a lot of a parallels between Nock’s economic ideas and, say, Rothbard’s. How could two people share so many economic ideas, but then split on the phenomenon of economism?
And they didn’t.
Rothbard was no fan of economism either. In fact, he spent time at the beginning of his magnum opus, Man, Economy, and State, to distance himself from the idea that he could possibly think that economics (or “praxeology”) was the only human dimension or the only worthwhile discipline. He even went so far as to offer his list of the five legitimate dimensions and disciplines that merit study: philosophy, psychology, technology, history, and praxeology. His list strikes me as partly wrongheaded, but I haven’t spent much time thinking about it, and it doesn’t matter here. My only point is that, among the five, only one of them is economic.
So even Rothbard, who among the godfathers of libertarian economics has a reputation for being the most stridently “materialistic,” held that any such encompassing view of reality is not part of his economics. His economics doesn’t deny God or the soul or even the Incarnation. His economics merely says, “Those things belong to a different sphere of inquiry.”
Socialism, on the other hand, relies on a rejection of traditional Christian principles. It is explicitly and thoroughly materialistic and atheistic: its belief system requires the rejection of God, as illustrated by de Lubac in The Drama of Atheist Humanism and Voegelin’s From Enlightenment to Revolution.Bookmark it: del.icio.us | Reddit | Slashdot | Digg | Facebook | Technorati | Google | StumbleUpon | Window Live | Tailrank | Furl | Netscape | Yahoo | BlinkList