The Soul of the Entrepreneur
Dr. Victor Claar gave the most upbeat presentation at a conference which was distinguished by a generally upbeat tone. One had the feeling of being in Sunday school, with plenty of scripture being quoted, and careful analogies drawn between the Biblical narrative and action in modern day society. Claars’ premise was that entrepreneurial action was an image of God’s creative action. Good uplifting stuff, albeit it tended to sell short the sense in which human finite reason and senses were only a poor hint at the fiat creation of an omnipotent and omniscient God.
A useful term for this same insight, which Dr. Claar did not employ, was J. R. R. Tolkein’s “sub-creation.” All human activity, from art to entrepreneurship, is mundane mirroring of God’s creative action. It struck me that there are actually two levels operative here, the moving about of productive factors within creation, and the imaginative reconstruction of the world with language. These are different, with the former being closer to God’s creation in substance, while the second seems closer in terms of form.
One objection to any parallelism between entrepreneurship and God’s creative act is the presence of uncertainty in the former. Theorists of entrepreneurship, such as the Austrian school’s Israel Kirzner, have talked about the entrepreneur as someone who is capable of “seeing around the corner” and discovering a gap in the market, some need or deficiency which has not been hitherto met. However the entrepreneur cannot magically control the outcome of the enterprise. This human capacity for being wrong renders the analogy between human action and creation less than perfect. I mentioned this to Dr. Claar and he seemed to concur with this caveat.
The Plot Thickens: Enter Rene Girard as mimed by David Gornoski
“A Neighbor’s Choice” applied mimetic theory (MT) to the issues of politics and liberty. Of all the presentations this was the one which came closest to offering a Christian solution to tyranny, and human bondage in general. Most of the audience was probably unaware of the late Rene Girard’s work on social imitation, the mimetic triangle, and scapegoating. As one of the conference attendees noted “libertarians scapegoat the state.” Well, I am not sure that the way libertarians blame the state is congruent with Girard’s “scapegoat” theory, but the comment articulates an important truth. The “state” is an abstraction which can only become incarnate in human action. Therefore we must ask ourselves what is the primal human motive which results in the institution of elaborate and tyrannical systems of control.
For Rene Girard, it is the violation of the tenth commandment, Envy, which is at the heart of both social cohesion and conflict. Imitation is the indispensable mortar for building individual bricks into a social structure, but imitation turns to nihilism as the fires of envy intensify and the continued existence of the imitated other becomes unbearable. At the root of the problem is the unique quality of human imitation, which, unlike animal imitation is not just a miming of behavior but a imaginative appropriation of the other person’s desires. This leads to rivalry and ultimately the assassination of the rival so that one can occupy and replace one’s rival’s very selfhood. The assassination is then speedily mythologized, and turned into a religion to mask the aggression of the new leadership, a strategy which is generally successful in the short term, or at least until the fires of envy once again build up beyond a tolerable limit.
According to Girard, this pattern continued throughout human prehistory until it was unmasked by the passion of Christ. In the gospel records for the first time ever, the narrative is related from the point of view of the victim. Ideally, Christ should have been the last victim of mimetic rivalry, but as David Gornoski reminded the audience, the pattern has continued to operate up to the present and provide a rationale for that institution which we call “the state.” Gornoski reminded the audience that the gospel accounts not only provide a diagnosis of the sinful basis of society, but also a strategy for dealing with mimetic rivalry…to eschew rivalry and usurping of the tyrannical rival’s functions, no matter if the overthrow and replacement be masked as “justice.”
It would seem that with Mr. Gornoski’s presentation we had got to a point during the conference where theory was beginning to give way to practice. However the “practice” of a Girardian anti-mimesis would be less action than restraint on action, which brings to the foreground the common tendency of anarchism to encourage quietism rather than political activism.
Pico himself was beset by his usual theological scruples, and being a Girardian himself, though perhaps in bad standing, was eager to sound out Mr. Gornoski on the dangers of diverting the passion narrative from soterology to sociology. Mr. Gornoski replied that he was convinced a sociological perspective on Christ’s victimhood in no way diminished the doctrine of the atonement, and that Girard himself (who became a practicing Catholic) saw no contradiction. Pico was willing to let the matter stand, although this is a fundamental point which needs to be clarified in Girardian circles.
Conclusion: Political Burlesque and a Resounding Call to Inaction
It was inevitable that, in a Presidential election year, there would have to be some concluding fireworks…and that these would have to be managed so that the dangerous explosives didn’t blow apart the meeting in a satisfying but divisive finale. This job was delegated to Jason Rink who’s semi-comic “Never a Chump: A Christian Libertarian guide to the 2016 Election” concluded with an appeal for libertarians to vote, not with their feet, but with their couch. Even Mr. Johnson, the darling of the LP and other mild-mannered reformers, got the cold shoulder on the premise that if you don’t vote you aren’t morally responsible for the inevitable brutality of practical statecraft. Of course this went double for Mr. Trump and Ms. Clinton.
Wisely, there were no rebuttals due to time constraints, so partisan matches and fireworks were kept from any incendiary conjunction. The enthusiasts of Mr. Johnson just had to grit their teeth and defer to their anarchist betters. However, just for the record, Pico would like to ask: Are there not crimes of omission rather than commission?
Let me get down to specifics. After all, Pico has made no secret of the fact that he is sympathetic to the oh-so-terrible Mr. Trump, so let me take Mr. Rink to task on his logic. With regard to the Republic slate in general, Mr. Rink correctly observes that the Christian Right have served as the useful idiots (a.k.a. “chumps”) for a G.O.P. which has become subservient to neoconservative policies and banking interests. Rink therefore concludes that now is the time for Christians in general and libertarians in particular to assert their independence from the Republican machine. Four or eight years ago this would have been a valid premise, and in fact many Evangelicals did desert the G.O.P in 2012, if only due to Mr. Romney’s religion.
However Mr. Rink fails to understand that a G.O.P. under the sway of the Trump movement is no longer the Republican party of pre-2016. If Trump has his way (and in spite of the obtuse G.O.P. leadership he seems to be getting it) the only continuity between today’s party and the pre-2016 organization will be the name. If Mr. Rink, and the rest of us, could get beyond labels and pose the question objectively we would ask: Can Christian Libertarians support the Bull Moose Party, or the Populist Party, or whatever moniker you fancy for Trump’s new breed? Indeed, it was a tremendous coup (literally!) for Trump and his people to retain the name and franchise of “Republican” but that’s a whole new animal you see walking around the elephant’s skin. So we pose the question whether Christians should join fortune at its tide, and be counted among those who will have clout in a possible Trump administration, or not? I have a hunch that a Trump administration might succeed in “Making America Small Again” which would be an improvement on the present globalist regime. Of course don’t expect Mr. Trump to be saying any such thing, which would be against both prudence and his own expansive nature, its just that rhetoric and results are often polar opposites.
Still, I suspect that it is Mr. Rink and not Pico who had his hand on the pulse on the conclave’s membership. The dominant strain in the organization, which is now three years old, seems to be pietistic semi-anarchism of the David Lipscomb variety. That is a worthy tradition and not be gainsaid, albeit Pico has been tending more towards a theonomic perspective recently.
Most of all, whether we are inclined towards libertarianism or theonomy, it is important to oppose the mainstream Christian Right in its fatal love affair with militarism and American exceptionalism. To that end, I was glad to see that Dr. Norman Horne, the conference organizer, had learned some hard lessons from his debate with Dr. Al Mohler, President Emeritus of the largest Protestant denomination in America, and an evangelical celebrity. During this previous encounter Mohler had dismissed “libertarianism” as a distracting ideology which was inherently non-Christian if not anti-Christian. By his own account, Dr. Horn felt he came off poorly in the debate, as one would only expect of an upstart idealist going to the mat with a seasoned polemicist.
Dr. Horne concluded that in a projected rematch he would be less inclined to mince words and accept Dr. Mohler’s premises at face value. Rather, he would have recourse to libertarian first principles, which are in fact Christian first principles. He would like to remind Dr. Mohler that aggression is not endorsed by the gospel and that power corrupts.
Whether there is a reprise of the Horne/Mohler debate, let’s hope that someone is listening. War drums are beating ever louder, Ms. Clinton is solidly in the pocket of the neocons, and militarists are wrangling for influence with Mr. Trump. Christians, both committed and nominal, still represent the biggest single demographic in America, and a force for good or evil depending on how they are mobilized.
Let us meditate deeply on what action, or perhaps inaction, we should take in 2016…and may God help us all.