Are Christianity and Capitalism Compatible?

20 April 2012
Are Christianity and Capitalism Compatible? - Featured image

This article from the April 2012 edition of the IPA Review is by Melbourne based writer, Sam Hearne.

Can a good Christian be an entrepreneur? Christians have long debated what constitutes a moral economy and what is the role of the state and the individual. There have been many lay participants in this debate including Dorothy Day, Bob Santamaria to Robert Novak, and Sam Gregg. This book is a particularly good fit for Australian Catholics, because historically Australian Catholics were mostly from the working industrial class and therefore mostly affiliated with the labour movement and also the Labor Party (at least until the split in the 1950s.)

However since the 1970s Australian Catholics have fast become a part of the affluent middle and upper class and were a large part of the Labor voters who switched their votes in the 1990s, a large part of former prime minister John Howard’s ‘battlers.’

This book argues succinctly that the long tradition of Christian entrepreneurship fits well with the changing social order of Australian Catholics. It is therefore a great book for young Christians entering the world of business, and students of theology looking for a moral understanding of the economic realm. As Father Robert Sirico, President of the Acton Institute says of Percy’s book ‘It undermines stereotypes of Catholic thought about free enterprise and business’, striking at the heart of the problem many Christians who support free enterprise in Australia confront from many aspects of the popular culture.

Entrepreneurship in the Catholic tradition includes studies of biblical texts, theory on business and entrepreneurship, the early church fathers, great Catholic thinkers, with particular emphasis on the thoughts of Pope Leo XIII through to Pope John Paul II. The book is well researched, drawing from a wide variety of sources. His writing is superb in taking language that might seem difficult to a modern reader and translating it into accessible modern language. It also serves as wonderful reference text, providing snippets of the thought of various intellectuals throughout Christian history, with considerable referencing at the end of each chapter. If you find something that particularly interests you, Percy offers a window into a wider world of study and ideas.

Percy not only provides the entrepreneur with the knowledge about the importance of their work in God’s plan, but also gives excellent moral advice as to how to go about their business. It espouses the merits of hard work while at the same time reminding the reader of their ethical responsibilities as an entrepreneur: not to grow lazy, or fall in love with their wealth, but to remain honest and remember those who rely on him for their wellbeing. He reminds us through the work of Pope Pius XII that a good employer creates loyalty and unity in his firm. He also writes that the human person is the most important element to the economy. He shows that the church, far from supporting some form of socialismlite, instead supports the individual’s creative initiative. According to the book, Pius XII teaches us that businessmen ‘should not be barred by too many obstacles’ and that ‘taxes should not be too numerous and too heavy.’ This is just one of many gems that Percy picks up on.

The book also carries messages for non-entrepreneurs as it focuses on the Christian tradition of hard work and its part in creating a moral person and moral society. In an age where, as Percy puts it, ‘For many people, no doubt, work has no meaning. Even worse, it has become a disease, a form of slavery. John Paul II speaks directly to this destructive culture. He suggests man in working and resting, is actually participating in and perfecting God’s opus (work of beauty, in man.)’

In the West today we are seeing young people enter the workforce later in life, and they are often too proud to see the virtue in even the simplest of labour. Percy offers moral examples to why this view is wrong.

In conclusion, this book is not your typical Catholic theology book. It opens an area of study often neglected by students of theology and philosophy. This book is perfect for young people whether they are entering or leaving university, providing them with lessons that they might miss in a typical academic lecture. At the same time it contains advice that is relevant to all, especially Christian businessmen looking for a moral basis in understanding their work.

Support the IPA

If you liked what you read, consider supporting the IPA. We are entirely funded by individual supporters like you. You can become an IPA member and/or make a tax-deductible donation.