Wednesday, November 20, 2013

How the Church's Abolition of Roman Slavery Lead to Rise of the West

Freeman Perspective's Paul Rosenberg, himself "not particularly in love with profit for its own sake," reminds us that "a reflexive condemnation of profit is deeply ignorant" and that "'profit' killed the ancient abomination of human slavery" — What the World would be Like Without Capitalism. An excerpt:
    What is not understood is that slavery was the foundation of economics in the old world – such as in Greece and Rome.

    Slavery was almost entirely about surplus. (Surrounded by creative justifications, of course.) It was a type of enforced thrift.

    An undeveloped man, left to himself, will spend almost all of what he earns. If he does earn some surplus, he’ll likely spend it on luxuries, frivolities, or worse. Until he develops a strong character, little of his surplus will remain for other uses.

    A slave, on the other hand, never holds his earnings in his hands and therefore cannot spend them. All surplus is transferred to his or her owner. It was precisely this kind of surplus that made Rome rich.

    But then Christian Europe came about. Prior to that, I cannot point to a single ancient culture that forbade the practice; it was seen as normal. So, for Europe to expel the slavery it inherited from Rome was a monumental change.

    Europeans replaced slavery – slowly and because of their Christian principles, not because of a conscious plan – by doing these things:

      1. Developing personal thrift. This required a strong focus on building up virtues like temperance (self-control) and patience.

      2. Replacing the enforced surplus of slavery with profit. That is, by mixing creativity in with their commerce: innovating, inventing, and adapting to get more surplus out of commerce.

    Under a new system that was eventually tagged capitalism, thrift and creativity generated surplus, and no human beings had to be enslaved.
Alexis de Tocqueville in Democracy in America and Thomas Woods in How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization emphasize that this "monumental change" Holy Mother Church engendered by ending slavery in Europe is largely forgotten.

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