What’s Your Angle?

'Economism' and 'politicism' are merely intellectual viewpoints

Topics

Philosophy

Ask me “what’s your angle?” around 7 am. If I can summon the strength, I’ll say that in five minutes or so, if I’m upright, I’ll be at a 90 degree angle from the floor. It might take a few tries, though. Graceful, I’m not.

Intellectual angles matter even more than my matutinal stance. A pair of such angles are perilous.

The first angle is “economism.” From this angle, economics explains everything that’s worth explaining — and everyone, as well. We do what we do, supposedly, for the money. Who we are depends on economic class. But wait! “Economism” is itself something, an influential something, isn’t it? So what explains economism? Pardon the pun, but I put my money on addled anthropology!

Time for a distinction. There’s physical anthropology and cultural anthropology, and both are sciences. Then there’s philosophical anthropology, the study of what it means to be human. Economism assumes that the whole meaning of the human person amounts to nothing but the dynamics of supply and demand, production and consumption, credit and debit, and the like. But it’s a mistake simply to assume what needs to be argued for. Both capitalism and socialism, left to their own devices, make that mistake. Example? The other day I came across a Marxist analysis of clerical abuse.

The second angle is “politicism.” From this angle, politics explains everything that’s worth explaining — and everyone, as well. What we do, supposedly, depends on our politics, if not at one level then at another. We are who we are because we are conservatives or liberals. Once again, we need to ask what explains politicism. Can you pardon another pun? My vote goes to another addled anthropology.

Another distinction is in order. There’s political science and politics. Political science is an empirical discipline. Politics is what that discipline studies. Politicism goes beyond either of them. It assumes that the whole meaning of the human person amounts to nothing but the dynamics of power seeking and power keeping and (maybe) power sharing. Well, it’s still a mistake simply to assume what needs to be argued for. Both conservatism and liberalism, if unchecked, also make that very mistake. Example? The New York Times reports that it’s “conservatives” who oppose the governor of Virginia’s approval of infanticide.

Were this a book rather than a blog post, we might chart what happens when the proponents of economism and of politicism meet up in the Public Square. Clearly, both views cannot be correct. I’d happily argue that both are wrong!

Such an argument calls for philosophical anthropology. It would lead us to recognize, as does our own experience, that we are reasoners. We are rational beings. Often our reasoning is instrumental, that is, geared to a particular goal. Yet in time we come to see that reason does more than master techniques. We are so created that we can gain wisdom about what is true, what is good, and what is beautiful. Such reasoning begins with the everyday, the horizontal. But our reason can reach beyond it, vertically, to the very faces of Being. Think of a 90 degree shift. Making that shift is a work of grace. An amazing grace, an amazing gift.

 

Jim Hanink is an independent scholar, albeit more independent than scholarly!

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