Sunday, 15 October 2000

From "Economics as Theology: Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations"

By A. M. C. Waterman.

By far the most influential theodicy in the Christian West is that of St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430), whose voluminous and powerful writing set the theological agenda for more than a thousand years. Augustine began with the Pauline doctrine of Original Sin and the Fall of Man and attributed all moral evil, and most if not all physical evil, to that single cause. What then does God do about it? Augustine's answer was complex and not entirely satisfactory (Williams 1927). But his account of political society is suggestive. The state and its institutions are a self-inflicted punishment of human sin. Augustine had no illusions about the human cost of maintaining internal peace and external security. Moreover, without justice, the state is an unmitigated evil: "Remota itaque justitia, quid sunt regna nisi magna latrocinia?" (Augustine 1957, iv:4). And because of human sin, true justice is never fully obtainable: "vera autem justitia non est nisi in ea re publica cuius conditor rectorque Christus est" (ii:21). Yet some degree of justice remains possible; therefore, God allows the self-regarding acts of sinful human beings to bring the state into existence because its institutions-especially those of private property, marriage, and slavery-are also a remedy for sin. By means of the state, the evil in human life may be constrained to that minimum that must result from freedom of the will in fallen humanity (Waterman 1991, pp. 76-7). I wish to suggest that there are parallels between this aspect of St. Augustine's theodicy and the account we may read in W[ealth of Nations] of the way in which "the wisdom of nature" provides that natural(2) [i.e. necessary] human behavior may bring about natural(1) [i.e. right] outcomes.

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