The Book Of Revelation Is Hayekian is the title of on op/ed interview published on Forbes last week. I found the transcript of the interview between Gregory Alan Thornbury (interviewee) and Jerry Bowyer (interviewer) fascinating. The section of the interview I included in this post highlights Thornbury and Bowyer playing off of one another to show the Judea-Christian roots of western civilization. While the subject of the title of the interview is engaging, it is the perspective on the role of Christianity in development of western culture I found intriguing. In his introduction of Thornbury, Bowyer mentions Thornbury’s 2013 New Student Orientation Address. If you go to about 10:45 in the speech and listen for around 5 minutes, you can hear Dr. Thornbury’s discussion of Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom – the part of the address that led Bowyer to Ask Thornbury: “Should a Christian be a Hayekian?”. Enjoy:
Dr. Thornbury: … I think that when you study the texts of particularly the New Testament, although it has its origins in the Mosaic Law, I think what you see there is the seedbed of freedom of conscience. You see democratic religion in the pages of the New Testament. So whereas some people in Acts chapter 5 see some kind of nascent socialism, actually what you’re seeing is free people electing to gather together in solidarity around key principles and ideals and goals, and the people who joined in that were people like Lydia. There was a mercantile aspect to the early Christian movement. When I read Hayek and I see his argument for the link between private property and freedom, I see a direct line going all the way back to those pages of the New Testament, because what the Apostle Paul and others were representing was an alternative to totalitarianism. When you look at the Apostle John – and whatever else you think the Book of Revelation says about the future—what it definitely was, was the greatest political protest letter ever penned in the history of the world, because he was saying, “The state has no business telling us how we should govern our own life together.” And when I say “society” or “culture”, here’s how I’m defining that, Jerry: I take a nineteenth century definition by Johann Herder, who many recognize as the founding father of modern sociology. He said, “Culture is the lifeblood of a civilization. It’s the flow of moral energy that keeps a society intact.” So, when I see Hayek talking about making sure that we stay free of tyranny, I see the entailments of that going all the way back to the emperor and Domitian and the Apostle John.
Jerry: Interesting. Domitian: a price-setter and a currency-debaser.
Dr. Thornbury: Exactly! As a matter of fact – and this is a sidebar – I find it fascinating that the great 20th century German New Testament scholar, Ethelbert Stauffer, said that the “666” was a codex kind of code for Domitian’s name that appeared on the currency that he churned out. When you read the Book of Revelation, it’s about not giving in to tyranny when it comes to economics. I don’t know why we don’t talk about that in church.
Jerry: In essence what you’re doing is properly putting Saint John’s Apocalypse as a precursor to the idea that Hayek later calls “The Fatal Conceit.” The Fatal Conceit is that some men, for whatever reason, are just born better; they’re just more ambitious; they are just a higher grade of humanity. The Fatal Conceit says that some men are born to govern all other men. John’s Apocalypse and much of history is a rebuttal to that notion.
Dr. Thornbury: Absolutely. And then you trace that notion to John Locke, and then from Lockean thought all the way to Hayek, you’re one hundred percent correct.
Jerry: In some ways, free-market economics [I’m interviewing you but I’m going to say a thing and have you respond to it] is the doctrine of the fallen nature of man expressed in economic terms. Do you agree with that?
Dr. Thornbury: Absolutely. What free-market economics is, is a paraphrase; a secular paraphrase of a biblical concept is the way I put it.
Jerry: I see. I suppose, as we’re kind of riffing here together, social economics is a violation of the doctrine of original sin, but it’s also a violation of the doctrine of the unique Sonship of Christ – “filium dei unigenitum,” only begotten son—because it creates other theanthropoi; it creates other god-men. Do you see what I’m driving at?
Dr. Thornbury: I love it. Keep going.
Jerry: Well, I’m going to throw it back to you, but when you read the writings of the advocates of central planning, from Marx or even before Marx, and then in the Keynesians and the 20th Century, it’s clear that if you took it in a different context that we are talking about gods. These people believe that they know enough – anyone that believes that they know enough to run the lives of hundreds of millions of people is in some sense making himself a god-man. He’s giving to himself, to the state and the planning class, divine attributes.
Dr. Thornbury: Absolutely. And again, to go back to Domitian, he was the first emperor to declare himself “God the Lord.” At least with Caesar Augustus, when people gave him divine titles they were given to him; he didn’t declare himself as such.
Jerry: Yes. And after his death.
Dr. Thornbury: That’s correct.