Seven ethics against capitalism

If you’re a regular reader at Joy in Enough, you probably already recognise that capitalism is failing in multiple ways, driving up inequality and destroying its own environmental foundations. The question is what to do about it, especially when political imagination doesn’t seem to be able to extend beyond capitalism. If we can’t see beyond it, we are just endlessly tinkering with something that fundamentally can’t be fixed.

So we need fresh thinking, and that’s what Seven Ethics Against Capitalism brings. Oli Mould is a professor of human geography, describes himself as a ‘Christianarchist’, and his approach focuses on the empowering and democratic idea of the commons.

Where discussion around managing resources often polarises into state control vs markets, the commons has always been there as an alternative. In commons thinking, users organise themselves, so that “the commons is that which we build by being together.” As a participative and inclusive process rather than a fixed set of ideas, it’s not something that can be imposed, or that can be detailed in advance as a manifesto. Instead, as the book describes, it’s more about ways of thinking – in this case, seven different lines of thought that offer a “creative and infectious force of planetary commoning”.

Some of these will be familiar, though perhaps described in different terms. Mutualism, for example, is summed up by a call to “renounce self-interest as a guiding force of society” and seek the good of others. That’s an ethic that Christians will recognise in the teachings of Jesus, and it’s a profound counter to the individualism of consumerist capitalism.

Likewise Minoritarianism, which is an “ethical alignment with oppressed marginal subjects, whether we are ourselves marginalised or not.” This too is an idea found in the Gospels, and in Jesus’ willingness to associate with outsiders of all kinds. It is interesting to see that principle described for secular audiences in the language of social theory.

The connection with the Christian faith is made more explicit in the final chapter. Starting with an extended quote from 1 Corinthians 13, it looks at selfless love as a transformative force – one powerful enough to confront the monolithic ideology of capitalism.

Some of the other ideas in the book are less familiar, but also useful and often with spiritual overtones. ‘Transmaterialism’ questions the idea of humans as the top of a pyramid, with all materials, animals (and ‘de-humanised’ people) at our service and disposal. The church might talk about humility. A chapter on ‘slowness’ echoes the language of patience. For me, investigating these notions through social theory made me look at some principles of faith in a new light.

Seven Ethics Against Capitalism does use a fair amount of academic language, though it balances the theory with plenty of practical examples, such as veganism, slow fashion, or the right to repair. It may require a little patience with jargon in places, but it’s a bold and original book that directly applies Christian principles to the dismantling of dysfunctional capitalism.

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