Idols_of_Nations_Biblical_Myth_at_the_Or - Introduction The...

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Introduction The present study investigates the interaction between theology and economy in the writings of four political economists—Hugo Grotius, John Locke, Adam Smith and Thomas Malthus—who are commonly grouped with the founding “fathers” of “economics.” If, as Ben Fine and Dimitri Milonakis argue, 1 the discipline of economics constituted itself through a process of individualization, de-socialization, and de-historicization, we would like to add to this the process of de- theologization, as also an important step in the dialectic of reduction and universalism that is crucial to economics imperialism. For Fine and Milonakis, “economics imperialism” refers to the application of supposed universal criteria derived from classical and neoclassical economics to all aspects of human existence, including the choices people make in relation to religion. That is, religion too is a marketplace, and human beings as economic animals make rational choices in light of what they regard as their own benefit. In the process of reduction and universalization, the specific and limited nature of the economic theory in question is effaced. These 1. Dimitris Milonakis and Ben Fine, From Political Economy to Economics: Method, the Social and the Historical in the Evolution of Economic Theory (London: Routledge, 2009); Ben Fine and Dimitris Milonakis, From Economics Imperialism to Freakonomics: The Shifting Boundaries between Economics and Other Social Sciences (London: Routledge, 2009); Ben Fine and Dimitris Milonakis, "From Freakonomics to Political Economy," Historical Materialism 20, no. 3 (2012): 81–96. 1
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limitations appear when one investigates not only the social and historical context of its emergence, but also the biblical and theological nature of those earlier debates. Our task here is to focus on this final element, namely, the way the Bible and theology indelibly stamp the theories in question. We have decided to focus on four of the key theorists rather than offer a grand sweep characteristic of what is known as the “History of Economic Thought” (HET). 2 These histories inevitably either lead up to Adam Smith, or begin with his work and then follow his successors, thereby marking him as both the culmination of a preparatory phase and the inaugurator of a new tradition. We opt to place Smith within this continuum rather than designate him as a beginning or end of a particular tradition. But why do we focus on these four? It enables us to dig deeper into their work, to explore the crucial deployments and rewritings of the myth of the emergence of private property, labor, if not the free market itself. Thereby, we are able to investigate with some patience their engagements with the Bible and the myths they derive from it, especially how they struggle to force new theories of economic activity and human nature from biblical narratives that resist such theories. 3 2. One of the most sweeping of such efforts is that of Viner, or rather the snippets that appeared of a project he was never able to complete. He runs all the way from classical Greece to thought
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