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E.F. Schumacher on teleological politics

From the must-read nonfiction volume “Subversive Orthodoxy: Outlaws, Revolutionaries, and Other Christians in Disguise,” by Robert Inchausti, this bit about E.F. Schumacher:

In his 1957 talk “The Insufficiency of Liberalism,” Schumacher argued that there were three stages of human development: first was primitive religiosity, and then scientific realism. The third stage, which we are now entering, is the realization that there is something beyond fact and science. The problem, he explained, is that stage one and stage three look the same to those in stage two. Consequently, those in stage three are seen as having relapsed into magical thinking when, in reality, they have actually seen through the limitations of rationalism. “Only those who have been through stage two,” he argues, “can understand the difference between stage one and stage three.” That is to say, only those who have come to realize the theoretical limitations inherent to instrumental logic understand the need for “metaeconomic” values.

“When we come to politics,” Schumacher insisted, “we can no longer postpone or avoid the questions regarding man’s ultimate aim and purpose.” If one believes in God, one will pursue politics mindful of the eternal destiny of man and the truths of the gospel. However, if one believes that there are no higher obligations, it becomes impossible to resist the appeal of Machiavellianism: politics defined “as the gaining and maintaining of power so that you and your friends can order the world as they like.”

Want more? Read this essay from Distributist Review. Excerpt:

It was clear that Schumacher’s credentials as an economist were beyond question, but few realized when Small is Beautiful was published that his economic theories were underpinned by solid religious and philosophical foundations, the fruits of a lifetime of searching. In 1971, two years before the publication of Small is Beautiful, Schumacher had become a Roman Catholic, the final destination of his philosophical journey.

The journey began shortly after the war with a growing disillusionment with Marxist economic theory. ‘During the war he was definitely Marxist,’ says his daughter and biographer, Barbara Wood. Then, in the early fifties he visited Burma which ‘was really important in beginning the real changes in his economic thinking’. ‘I came to Burma a thirsty wanderer and there I found living water,’ he wrote. Specifically, his encounter with the Buddhist approach to economic life made him realize that Western economic attitudes were derived from strictly subjective criteria based upon philosophically materialist assumptions. For the first time he began to see beyond established economic theories and to look for viable alternatives. As an economist he developed a meta-economic approach much as Christopher Dawson, as an historian, had developed a meta-historical approach. This fundamental change in outlook was discussed in Small is Beautiful. Modern economists, Schumacher wrote, ‘normally suffer from a kind of metaphysical blindness, assuming that theirs is a science of absolute and invariable truths, without any presuppositions.’ This was not the case: ‘economics is a “derived” science which accepts instructions from what I call meta-economics. As the instructions are changed, so changes the contents of economics.’

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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