Social Muddle

[the following is my new essay published on American Spectator]

Business, justice, and the Gospel are already social.

The adjective that economist Friedrich Hayek famously called a "weasel word" is alive and well in the feel-good phrases social business, social justice and the social gospel.

In all three of these phrases, the common weasel word sucks some of the essential meaning out of what it modifies by implying that business, justice, and the Christian Gospel are a-social, or even anti-social, until conjoined with a mysterious something else. If only the confusion were of merely academic interest. Unfortunately, the failure to see that business, justice and the Gospel are intrinsically social has led to all kinds of mischief in people's efforts to organize society -- most recently in the Circle of Protection promoted by Jim Wallis and his friends on the left.

First, consider business. This area of human endeavor brings together various people and capital to create goods or services for trade in a marketplace. In a free economy, people enter these relationships voluntarily in pursuit of win-win exchanges.

Now it's true that greedy, unscrupulous businessmen exist, but this no more contradicts the social nature of business than sinners in a church, square dance, or Rotary Club contradict the social nature of churches, square dances, and Rotary clubs.

The notion of social business adds to all of this a visibly charitable element. If done wisely, these business-charity hybrids serve a positive social good, but it's important to remember that the charitable element isn't uniquely social. Both charity as charity and business as business are social. Likewise, both encourage human flourishing if done thoughtfully and ethically, and both damage people and communities if done stupidly or wickedly.

The social gospel is a less trendy term than social business, but it's still a go-to word for some Christian pastors, as evidenced by a recent column in the Oregonian where United Church of Christ minister Chuck Currie links Occupy America, "the common good of all," a "new Great Awakening," and "the fundamental principles of biblical justice" with a call to "preach a Social Gospel."

Click here to read the full article on the American Spectator site.



Dec 062011
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