A struggling internet connection in my hotel delayed the timeliness of this post, however, I’ve received promises that the network will be fixed before the morning’s end, in which case posts should be more frequent. Connectivity foibles alone could not serve to dampen the excitement of the previous evening when Father Robert Sirico, co-founder of the Acton Institute opened the conference with a simple lecture intended to move all the attendees towards a unified philosophical foundation—one that would allow for useful and meaningful discussion and argumentation throughout the week’s courses. The basis of this philosophical foundation rested on anthropology—an interesting move considering the overtly religious and theological emphasis of the Institute. Rather than beginning our discussion with an examination of and pronouncement on the nature and activity of God, Sirico opened with a volley of remarks on the nature and activity of men.
The possible causal reasons for this opening move are multitudinous and my speculation on why he began with anthropology rather than theology proper are merely that—speculations.
As he spoke I heard echoes of VanTil in the back of my mind, particularly his accusations that the Roman Catholic church never really escaped the semi-Pelagianism of Augustine’s era and continues to suffer from measuring (almost) all things by man, and wondered if Sirico’s opening remarks were largely influenced by his theological and apologetical commitments as a devout Roman Catholic priest.
Be that as it may, there is a great deal of apologetical wisdom in opening a discussion that has certain heavy theological ramifications with an appeal to a science that is available to Everyman, regardless of religious or ideological affiliation. By opening the conference with a discussion of the nature of the human person, Sirico was able to sidestep some of the most obvious theological disagreements between Christian’s and the rest of the world, instead centering the attention of the audience on an issue that each and every person was intimately acquainted with—him- or herself.
Sirico’s argued for a distinctly Christian anthropology; a view of humankind that acknowledged man’s physical and spiritual reality without attempting to subsume either one by the other. It is this view of man—man as both flesh and spirit—that is fundamental to any human endeavor to regulate and/or understand self, society, and the human good. Pointing out errors made by those who viewed man primarily as spirit inhabiting flesh as well as those who view man as simple flesh and no spirit, Sirico emphasized the notion that false belief leads to horrific consequences, regardless of the specific nature of the falsehood. Pointing to the materialism of the failed Communist projects on the one hand, and the equally lamentable escapism of spiritualism that completely renounces the world on the other.
Moving from this anthropological basis, Sirico gave a quick sketch of an economic system that takes into consideration the dual nature of the human person. The emphasis, he argued, of free market economists is not so much on the material benefits that can be accrued under this system but rather on the flourishing of the human individual that has material prosperity as one of its fruits. Economic prosperity is the result of people being allowed to engage in enterprise—individuals using their skills and selves to create and express things in the service of others; the primary benefit is not material wealth, but that human beings are able to flourish in their totality.
Exploring the connection between economics and anthropology promises to yield, at the least, some very interesting ideas that will have much more weight and bearing on life than economic science that reduces all economic and market activity to material cause and effect. Economics as the science of the consumption, production, and transfer of wealth between persons of soul and body offers a way towards understanding and creating solutions to the current crises of poverty, consumerism, individual irresponsibility that plague America and many nations around the globe.