Guide The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success

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For better: the prose is not intrinsically off-putting to non-specialists.

Fr. George reflects on 'The Victory of Reason' by Rodney Stark

Yet a lack of familiarity with recent writing on economic history is for the worse. Sins of omission usually matter less than those of commission but in this case lead to excessive claims that the author is inventing the wheel. Moreover the religious writings that Stark relies on suffer the usual difficulty of being hard to connect with the grubby details of everyday economic life, and in fact are not systematically connected here.

Much of the text is a fairly familiar account of European history, on which I have no space or need to comment. The narrative runs on to consider the relative performance of North and South America, because the publisher wanted to have it included.

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This is a pity because after all what one is seeing is just the working out of two hypertrophies of European societies in different settings. The analytical core of the book is the argument that Christianity, and among religious and philosophical systems Christianity alone, chose the path of reason, which sufficiently accounts for economic growth and democracy in the West.

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Everything good, progressive and innovative is Christian and everything else is at best ineffective. At least the book is not politically correct! But what is really shown, amidst the wealth of learning we have come to expect from anyone who tackles such broad themes and where Stark is certainly no slouch is something different. This is not, however, the same as showing that Christian attitudes were, to coin what seems the apposite phrase, fons et origo.

The Tragedy of Theology: How Religion Caused and Extended the Dark Ages - The Objective Standard

People were engaging in capitalistic activity before the church came round to rationalizing it. Stark emphasizes the point.


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He repeatedly insists that economic change came very early and most definitely within Roman Catholicism. The author does recognize that the relative primacy of religious thought and economic action is an issue but he condemns economic historians for arguing, post-Weber, that capitalism gave birth to the Protestant ethic rather than vice versa. Yet of his five authorities, four predate and the other is dated They were merely showing, he says, that the Reformation arose out of the bourgeois ferment of the sixteenth century.

He demonstrates instead that economic activity had already produced a Puritanical backlash around Milan as early as the twelfth century. This was the minority movement of ascetics called the Humiliati who, reacting against their own material success, adopted a Puritan lifestyle within Roman Catholicism.

The most convincing answer to those questions attributes Western dominance to the rise of capitalism, which took place only in Europe. Even the most militant enemies of capitalism credit it with creating previously undreamed of productivity and progress. Supposing that capitalism did produce Europe's own "great leap forward," it remains to be explained why capitalism developed only in Europe.

Some writers have found the roots of capitalism in the Protestant Reformation; others have traced it back to various political circumstances.

But, if one digs deeper, it becomes clear that the truly fundamental basis not only for capitalism , but also for the rise ofthe West, was an extraordinary faith in reason. A series of developments, in which reason won the day, gave unique shape to Western culture and institutions.

And the most important of those victories occurred within Christianity.

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While the other world religions emphasized mystery and intuition, Christianity alone embraced reason and logic as the primary guides to religious truth Project MUSE promotes the creation and dissemination of essential humanities and social science resources through collaboration with libraries, publishers, and scholars worldwide. Forged from a partnership between a university press and a library, Project MUSE is a trusted part of the academic and scholarly community it serves.

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