Envy or Emulation a christian Understanding of Economic Passions

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1Wolfgang Palaver
Envy or Emulation

A Christian Understanding of Economic Passions
Envy has become an important topic of recent intellectual debates in the German speaking world. It is both a passion connected with the increase of competition in our globalizing world and also closely related to demands for social justice institutionalized in the modern welfare state. In a first step the following paper will focus on the connection between envy and economy leaving the question of social justice outside. A second step will focus on some severe problems coming along with enhanced competition asking, for instance, whether contemporary terrorism is linked to the global unleashing of envy. A third part will provide a mimetic understanding of envy and emulation leading finally to a reflection on the relationship between economy and religion seen from the point of view of Catholic Social Teaching.

1. An Economy Driven by Envy
Envy has become a drive wheel of our modern world.1 It is the passion that governs our economic life. Modern capitalism relies—despite all its opposite claims—on its ability to create and increase scarcity and it therefore depends largely on the omnipresence of envy. In affluent societies the availability of material goods increases the demand for positional goods based on social scarcity. Most often it is "envy, emulation, or pride" creating this kind of scarcity, in which "satisfaction is derived from relative position alone, being in front, or from being behind."2 As long as people desire what others desire scarcity will be the never-ending condition of our lives that keeps our economy running. Through envy nearly any object can turn into a desirable commodity promising unending happiness. Envy is the passion leading to modern commodity fetishism and therefore contributing to the transformation of capitalism into a form of religion.3

More than twenty years ago, Jean-Pierre Dupuy and Paul Dumouchel have used mimetic theory to explain how capitalism, scarcity and envy are indissolubly interconnected.4 At least in the German speaking world these insights have become part of contemporary social theory.5

Modern advertising is the best example to illustrate the importance of envy to keep our economy going.6 Advertizing uses envy to make commodities desirable. Posters, announcements and TV-spots show us enviable people who have those things and goods we lack but nonetheless need to gain happiness. Advertisement sells products with the help of envious contagion. Most of the time envy itself remains hidden and is not directly mentioned in commercials. But even this may no longer be true. Envy seems to loose its traditional bad reputation. More and more commercials directly refer to envy to make their commodities more desirable. Cars should be bought to become the number one in one's street, a building and loan association promises a swimming pool which will make our neighbors envious. The most well known example of an open reference to envy is a perfume produced by the Italian company Gucci with the brand name "Envy" promising that you will not only be envied for some external object that belongs to you but for your very self embodied in a seductive fragrance.

Those of you familiar with traditional definitions of envy and emulation may, however, question my thesis that our modern economy is driven by envy. Is it really envy that governs our economy or would not emulation be a more appropriate and less moralizing term? There is an easy answer to this question. In parallel with the emergence of our modern world and the rise of capitalism the traditional distinction between bad envy and good emulation has slowly lost its meaning. Where Immanuel Kant, for instance, refers to the passions nature uses to turn a sheepish, idle and inactive Arcadia into a prosperous culture he refers to an "enviously competitive vanity" that no longer allows a neat distinction between envy and emulation but mentions a form of human desire comprising both these traditionally distinguished emotions.7 Our modern world no longer seems to be in need of a critical view of envy. It therefore does no longer make much sense to distinguish between envy and emulation. Whatever term we use it refers to a benevolent competitive passion promising growing prosperity. But is that really true?

2. The Planetary Unleashing of Envy leads to a Hobbesian World of a War of Everyone Against Everyone
Our modern world has transformed itself more and more into a arena of planetary competition. But is it enough to avoid the term envy or make it interchangeable with the term emulation to exorcize all the threats traditionally connected to this passion? Is the modern unleashing of envy or emulation for free? We have to undertake a careful study of the development of modern capitalism to answer these questions.

Adam Smith, the founder of the classical school of economics, is a good example to demonstrate, how modern economic thinking began to make its peace with envy.8 And yet, he is far apart from modern economic liberalism as we know it today. He still clings, for instance, to the Aristotelian distinction between bad envy and good emulation and insists on the necessity of the state to protect the owners of properties against the envy of the poor people:

"The affluence of the rich excites the indignation of the poor, who are often both driven by want, and prompted by envy, to invade his possessions. It is only under the shelter of the civil magistrate that the owner of that valuable property ... can sleep a single night in security."9
But despite his critique of this destructive and hostile form of envy, Smith did not really treat envy as a really serious problem of human societies. According to him,
"the greater part of men are not very frequently under the influence" of passions like "envy, malice or resentment", and "the very worst of men are so only occasionally. ... It is in the greater part of men commonly restrained by prudential considerations. Men may live together in society with some tolerable degree of security, though there is no civil magistrate to protect them from the injustice of those passions."10
Smith can therefore appreciate a form of an ambitious and stimulating envy helping to increase the wealth of the nation.11 He uses the term ambition where he refers to this passion connecting it, however, closely to both envy and emulation.12

"The poor man's son, whom heaven in its anger has visited with ambition, when he begins to look around him, admires the condition of the rich. He finds the cottage of his father too small for his accommodation, and fancies he should be lodged more at his ease in a palace. He is displeased with being obliged to walk a-foot, or to endure the fatigue of riding on horseback. He sees his superiors carried about in machines, and imagines that in one of these he could travel with less inconveniency."13
Out of envious ambition poor people devote themselves "to the pursuit of wealth and greatness."14 It was Smith's economic trust in the invisible hand that allowed him to value the unleashing of this envious ambition. Specific preconditions at the beginning of the rise of capitalism justify his trust in this magical mechanism. For a certain period of time, the envious admiration of the rich helped to increase the wealth of the nation without leading to a Hobbesian war of all against all.

Let us now take a closer look at two of these preconditions that enabled early capitalism to unleash envy in this quite harmonious way. First, we have to recognize that according to Smith "the distinction of ranks"—which he identifies with "the peace and order of society"—is also "founded upon the disposition of mankind ... to go along with all the passions of the rich and the powerful."15 Envious ambition and the distinction of rank are both rooted in the natural inclination of humanity to admire wealth and power.16 His trust in the stability of a hierarchical order is a clear sign that Smith lived in a society in which modern equality has not yet emerged and social differences could still be seen as natural barriers against a total unleashing of envious competition.

A second precondition is that Smith's own society was a "poor society", in which the "consumption of the mass of the population is concentrated on basic material goods" whereas only a very small group of rich people was engaged in a competition for positional goods.17 These rich people bought all those "baubles and trinkets, which are employed in the economy of greatness," that led through the mechanism of the invisible hand to the prosperity of the entire nation.18 The poorer people became employed to satisfy the desires for positional goods of the rich:
"The rich only select from the heap what is most precious and agreeable. They consume little more than the poor, and in spite of their natural selfishness and rapacity, though they mean only their own conveniency, though the sole end which they propose from the labours of all the thousands whom they employ, be the gratification of their own vain and insatiable desires, they divide with the poor the produce of all their improvements. They are led by an invisible hand to make nearly the same distribution of the necessaries of life, which would have been made, had the earth been divided into equal portions among all its inhabitants, and thus without intending it, without knowing it, advance the interest of the society, and afford means to the multiplication of the species."19
But what happens to this economic logic when a society grows richer and more and more people are able to join the group of those who primarily long for positional goods? In his well known book Social Limits to Growths, the American economist Fred Hirsch made clear that the problem of modern capitalism consists in the fact that economic prosperity undermines exactly those preconditions of early capitalism that allowed its benevolent unleashing of envy. The richer a society gets the more dangerous a passion like envy becomes: "Increased material resources enlarge the demand for positional goods, a demand that can be satisfied for some only by frustrating demand by others."20

Economic liberalism was partly justified to claim that the logic of the invisible hand was able to overcome the threats of a Hobbesian war of all against all. But it completely overlooked the fact that it is exactly its own success which leads to a return of these dangers. In the long run, economic prosperity increases the likelihood of a war of all against all: "Positional competition ... intensifies the distributional struggle to a potentially dangerous point. In short, it threatens to displace Smithian harmony by Hobbesian strife and is thereby a dangerous element to leave in the Smithian sector of individualistic optimization."21 The victory of liberal economy over Hobbes's insight into the conflictual nature human relations remained a Pyrrhic victory. Intensified wars have returned after they seemingly had been overcome forever.

The current situation of our world favors Hobbes. Despite the fact that Hobbes lived more than a century before Smith, his thinking is closer to our own world. Hobbes talks about a world characterized by equality bringing conflicts and violence along with it. He also focuses primarily on a world governed by the fight for positional goods.22 Famous is his identification of human life with a race, which has "no other goal ... but being formost."23

Hobbes is the thinker of our time. Civil wars, terrorism and Americas war against terrorism bring central insights of his political philosophy to the fore. After the Cold War we are living in an age of a planetary civil war. Many of us—at least those from the German speaking world—thought of Hobbes as an outdated thinker. Until recently, he was really the dead old white man. Even my own dissertation—a mimetic critique of Hobbes's political philosophy—resembles something like an intellectual coup de grâce. I criticized a thinker who was no longer thought to have any importance.

Today the situation has completely changed. Books and essays more and more refer to the insights of this dark English thinker. After the end of the Cold War more and more civil wars have broken out or have significantly intensified. According to the German poet and essayist Hans Magnus Enzensberger, in a world in which living bombs are straying around of all political thought from Aristotle to Max Weber only the "Hobbesian ur-myth of the war of everyone against everyone else" remains.24 Similarly, the American political scientist Benjamin Barber—famous for his formula "Jihad vs. McWorld" characterizing globalization25—compares the state of our world after the terrorist attacks from September 11 with Hobbes's war of everyone against everyone.26 Others recommend concepts of world order to overcome our current political crisis by openly drawing a close parallel to Hobbes's mighty Leviathan to overcome civil war.27

Hobbes is not only a thinker who helps to understand our current political situation but enables us also to link human violence to the passion of envy. Superficially seen, he seems to follow Aristotle's distinction between good emulation and bad envy. A closer look, however, reveals that Hobbes no longer makes a moral distinction between these two passions. Like Kant and many more modern philosophers, he treats them—at least morally—as a single and natural human passion. According to Hobbes, envious competition leads to war, if there is no political power to check human emulation, and that is the task of Hobbes' absolutist state. Quite similar to mimetic theory, Hobbes refers to mimetic rivalry to explain human conflicts: "If any two men desire the same thing, which nevertheless they cannot both enjoy, they become enemies; and in the way to their end ... endeavour to destroy or subdue one another."28 Hobbes also understood that equality between human beings increases the likelihood that more and more people desire exactly those objects which are already desired by others. In accordance with a long standing tradition he was aware that equality increases the potential danger of envy. Whereas Smith sees in the distinction of ranks a naturally given means to create peace and order keeping envious passions in check, Hobbes emphasizes natural equality of men with its resentful consequences.

Hobbes' insight into the connection between envy or emulation, equality and violence helps us to understand the current danger of fundamentalist terrorism. It is not primarily rooted in poverty and economic underdevelopment but, to the contrary, in a world in which those people become more resentful who move closer towards those people who are better off.29 Contemporary terrorism roots to a high degree in a global competition that is going to erase more and more differences between cultures and nations transforming our world into a global arena where enhanced competition increases at the same time envy and resentment.30 René Girard is right when he refers to the planetary mimetic rivalry that contributed to the terrorist attacks of September 11.31 Fundamentalist terrorism is closely connected with envy.32 Understanding this, one has to recognize that economic development—despite its social and ethical importance—does not automatically overcome terrorism but may even increase violent fanaticism and aggression. In a recent book on war the German sociologist Karl Otto Hondrich calls this strange paradox "Tocqueville's theorem":33 The liberation of oppressed groups frequently increases their tendency towards conflictual behavior. The closer they get towards equality the more they become aware of even the slightest forms of inequalities increasing their readiness to engage in conflicts. René Girard described this paradox of equality in his first book referring to Stendhal, Flaubert, and also Tocqueville:

"The increasing equality ... does not give rise to harmony but an even keener rivalry. Although this rivalry is the source of considerable material benefits, it also leads to even more considerable spiritual sufferings, for nothing material can appease it. Equality which alleviates poverty is in itself good but it cannot satisfy even those who are keenest in demanding it; it only exasperates their desire."34

We live in a world that promises happiness and recognition to everybody. But the more we try to reach these goals the more we become obstacles to each other causing frustration and resentment leading easily to violence of all sorts. Hans Magnus Enzensberger underlines this problem in his book Civil Wars:
"The more freedom and equality people gain, the more they expect. If these expectations are not fulfilled, then almost anyone can feel humiliated. The longing for recognition is never satisfied. Newspaper editors know the story well enough: the ghetto kid who wants a pair of designer training shoes enough to kill for them; the office worker who fails in his ambition to become a pop star and robs a bank or shoots into the crowd of people to get his own back for the humiliation he has suffered."35

3. A Mimetic Understanding of Envy and Emulation
The traditional distinction between bad envy and good emulation goes at least back to Aristotle's Rhetoric.36 Envy is, according to the Greek philosopher, a painful passion that can be felt if equals have good fortune. Like envy, also emulation consists in a feeling of pain due to a highly valued good exclusively possessed by someone who resembles us. The moral difference between these two passions consists in their contrasting attitudes towards those goods of the other. Whereas emulation causes us to try to obtain those goods ourselves, envy forces us to prevent the other from possessing them.

At first glance, Aristotle's distinction seems to be clear, helpful, and without further complications. A closer look, however, reveals its basal difficulty. We all know—at least from our own experiences—how easily emulation can turn into envy and how seldom we are able to resist such a bad development of our feelings. We also have to take into account that our modern world no longer seems to be able to follow Aristotle's moral distinction. Cultural, social and religious preconditions have heavily influenced the possibility to distinguish between envy and emulation. William Law, an Anglican theologian living in the period between Hobbes and Smith sharply criticized usual attempts to distinguish envy from emulation in his best-seller of the eighteenth century A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life (1728):

"The fineness of the distinction betwixt envy and emulation would show that it was easier to divide them in words, than to separate them in action. For emulation, when it is defined in its best manner, is nothing else but a refinement upon envy, or rather the most plausible part of that black and venomous passion. And though it is easy to separate them in the notion, yet the most acute philosopher, that understands the art of distinguishing ever so well, if he gives himself up to emulation, will certainly find himself deep in envy. For envy is not an original temper, but the natural, necessary, and unavoidable effect of emulation, or a desire of glory. So that he who establishes the one in the minds of people, necessarily fixes the other there. And there is no other possible way of destroying envy, but by destroying emulation, or a desire of glory. For the one always rises and falls in proportion to the other."37
William Law is right when he insists on the big difficulty to distinguish between envy and emulation. At least our modern inability to distinguish between envy and emulation justifies his critique. But he seems to be too general in his reproach of emulation, a passion which has undoubtably also its good side.

Mimetic theory can help us to go a step further. Envy, emulation, ambition, and competition are all passions rooted in mimetic desire and characterized by a triangular structure for human beings long especially for those objects that are also desired by others.38 Discovering the common root of both envy and emulation in mimetic desire explains why all theories which neatly separate bad envy from good emulation fall into the trap of a certain kind of Platonism that blurs the deeper affinity between envy and emulation. This closeness of envy and emulation, however, does not mean that we have to become pessimistic fundamentalists who sometimes even forbid their children to engage in sports in order to avoid the bad spirit of competition.39 Mimetic theory is not a pessimistic anthropology but views mimetic desire as something intrinsically good and essentially human.40 Neither does it lead to a total condemnation of the modern economy with its emphasis on competition. According to Girard, the modern economy, with its enormous increase of productivity is an example of the good side of mimetic desire.41

This, however, does not mean that mimetic theory identifies itself with the ideology of economic liberalism neglecting the problems coming along with the unleashing of mimetic desire. Girard does not at all ignore the dangers connected with envy but understands his theory as a continuation of Biblical thinking with its rejection of envy. In one of his most recent books he strongly defends the deep wisdom of the tenth commandment prohibiting envious or mimetic rivalry: "You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor." (Exod. 20:17)42 According to Girard, this commandment was given to resolve the problem of internal violence in human communities and to prevent the outbreak of a Hobbesian war of all against all.

The Biblical teaching on envy and emulation does not, however, end up with a prohibition. We have to take the Decalogue in its entirety to understand the thrust of the Bible. Just as the tenth commandment comprises the second half of the Ten Commandments focusing on mimetic rivalry that ultimately can lead even to murder so the first commandment summarizes the core of the first table that was given to Mose. "You shall have no other gods before me." (Exod. 20:3)43 The commandment against idolatry expresses the indispensable precondition that enables us to follow the tenth commandment. Human beings are religious beings whose desires aim at an infinite and universal good. This ultimately means that our natural inclination directs us towards God. If this fundamental longing is disturbed human beings begin to look for worldly things they desperately try to worship as their god. Envy results from such a deviation of our religious longings. Augustine defines religion as the imitation of our adored models because it is the "highest duty of religion to imitate him whom thou worshippest."44 This close affinity of worship and imitation explains the connection between idolatry and envy. As soon as we are no longer directed towards God we begin to worship our neighbors and through imitation we finally long for their goods. Worshiping our neighbors, however, will unstoppable force us into envy. The first commandment directs us towards God enabling us therefore to resist exactly those dangerous temptations which are forbidden by the last commandment. A careful look at the tenth commandment itself reveals that the sin of coveting is nothing but an idolatrous form of desire.45 In the New Testament the close connection between the first and the last commandment is expressed in the interrelation between love of God, self love and love of our neighbors. Jesus gave us two commandments: "The first is, 'Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.' The second is this, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'" (Mark 12:29-31)

It was the German novelist Theodor Fontane at the end of the nineteenth century who marvelously expressed the connection between idolatry and envy in his novel Der Stechlin. This novel describes the breakdown of aristocratic Prussia and the dawn of a democratic age bringing the increase of envy along with it. Universal ambition—everyone is aiming high—was in this novel said to be the "signature of the time".46 Dubslav von Stechlin, an old aristocrat and the main character of this novel incarnates true humanity and Christian humility, who neither belongs to the decaying world of the old aristocracy nor to the dawning new age because of his true good heart reaching out beyond such passing epochs. At his funeral pastor Lorenzen, his friend, makes clear that it was Stechlin's rejection of idolatry that protected him against envy. Because he did not worship the Golden Calf his life remained—contrary to that of many other people—free from envy and did not end up in ruin or unhappiness.47

The teaching of the Church Fathers on envy is related to this Biblical insight into the religious nature of human beings and into the necessity to direct our hearts towards God. Longing for God means for the Church Fathers, who are important predecessors of mimetic theory, to imitate Christ instead of Satan.48 Whereas the imitation of Christ leads towards God the imitation of Satan results in envy. Cyprian, who wrote the first Christian treatise on envy emphasizes especially these two very different modes of imitation.49 Basil the Great and Augustine call Christians to prefer eternal goods to temporal goods to avoid the creation of social scarcity that will inevitable result in envy.50 As soon as we long for God we will aim at a universal good that will not cause scarcity but will increase the joy of possessing this good with the number of people imitating our passion.51 Building on these basic insights Benedict of Nursia, the founder of the Benedictine order, was able to distinguish a good zeal (emulation) from a bad zeal (emulation) in his Rule. Good emulation depends on its orientation towards God.52

In Saint Thomas Aquinas Summa we can find a Christian understanding of envy and emulation that comes close to our mimetic interpretation of these passions. At first glance, Thomas just seems to repeat the Aristotelian distinction between bad envy and good emulation. A closer look, however, shows us that he—like mimetic theory—knows of a common root of envy and emulation that does not allow an essentialist distinction. Whereas Aristotle uses the Greek term zelos for good emulation Thomas knows—like Benedict—that zeal or emulation can be either good or bad depending on the good it is directed at. Thomas is quite well aware that temporal goods easily cause scarcity which often lead to an envious form of zeal—zelus invidiae—no longer allowing a neat separation between envy and emulation.53 Thomas makes a similar argument in his treatise on envy. Again, he insists that zeal or emulation can be either good or bad depending on the good:
"We may grieve over another's good, not because he has it, but because the good which he has, we have not: and this, properly speaking, is zeal, as the Philosopher says (Rhet. ii, 9). And if this zeal be about virtuous goods, it is praiseworthy, according to 1 Cor. 14:1: 'Be zealous for spiritual gifts': while, if it be about temporal goods, it may be either sinful or sinless."54

According to Saint Thomas emulation can be either god or bad depending on the good we aim at and the specific way we desire it. Envy, to the contrary is always bad: "A certain zeal may be good, whereas envy is always evil."55 Thomas' position comes close to mimetic theory if we understand that zeal is another term referring to mimetic desire. According to Girard, "mimetic rivalry is not sin but rather a permanent occasion of sin. The sin occurs when our relentlessness makes the rivalry obsessive. Its name is envy, jealousy, pride, anger, despair."56 To avoid envy or any other of these sinful passions, he recommends to imitate Jesus instead of Satan. Through Jesus we direct our longings towards God aiming at a universal good that enables us to free ourselves from envious struggles for those temporal goods easily causing social scarcity.

4. Catholic Social Teaching on the Relationship between Economy and Religion
Recommending the imitation of Christ to solve the problems of our modern economy with its unleashing of envy sounds odd. It tastes like a fundamentalist recipe or comes down to the futile claim of a theologian who tries to insist on the importance of religion in a world which no longer seems to need religion or—even less—theology. Contrary to this view, I think that economy and religion are both part of a complex relationship that can never be fully separated. Going beyond Max Weber's insight into the relationship between the protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism and going beyond Walter Benjamin's even more profound claim that capitalism has become a religion itself we have to understand how deeply economic activities of human beings are based on our religious nature.57 Alexis de Tocqueville was clearly aware of the religious foundation of economic productivity: "In man the angel teaches the brute the art of satisfying its desires. It is because man is capable of rising above the things of the body, and of scorning life itself, of which the beasts have not the least notion, that he can multiply these same goods of the body to a degree of which the inferior races cannot conceive."58 The French historian was, however, also aware that as soon as human beings limit their activities to the sole pursuit of material goods they quickly would fall back on the status of animals: "If men were ever to content themselves with material objects, it is probable that they would lose by degree the art of producing them; and they would enjoy them in the end, like the brutes, without discernment and without improvement."59 Tocqueville's warning addresses the problem of the disappearance of man possibly coming along with this end of history.60 It is highly questionable, however, how likely such an end of history is, even if pharmacology and biotechnology may bring us closer to it.61

A mimetic understanding of envy and emulation leads us to an even more important danger following an exclusive occupation with material goods. A world in which all our desires and passions would be directed towards material goods only would automatically lead to a world of ongoing conflicts and wars. It would result in a Hobbesian world in which violence has always to be contained by violence. Hobbes' political philosophy comes down to an ontology of violence because—contrary to the Church Fathers or Saint Thomas Aquinas—he no longer saw any possibility to overcome social scarcity by orienting our deepest longings towards eternal goods.62 Whereas the Christian tradition recognized God as the summum bonum, Hobbes rejected even the possibility of a highest good.63 In this regard Hobbes's philosophy remains essentially immanentist, a position he shares with Adam Smith as my colleague Wilhelm Guggenberger will make clear this afternoon.

It is, however, our contemporary world with its violent dangers that needs to emphasize the importance of religions enabling us to direct our infinite passions towards immaterial goods.64 Catholic Social Teaching has emphasized the necessity to give religious values precedence over material interests since its very beginning. It is this insistence on the true scale of values that builds the core of an ontology of peace clearly visible from Leo XIII's encyclical Rerum novarum onwards. According to this tradition, it is God who is the highest good—the summum bonum—giving everything else its proper place by subordinating it to this good.65 Most of the encyclicals, for instance, quote a passage from Matthews to give the search for the kingdom of God priority over everything else: "Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His justice, and all these things shall be given you besides." (Matt. 6:33)66 Catholic Social teaching is quite aware that human beings are religious beings longing for an infinite and universal good. Only if this infinite desire of human beings is directed towards God the danger of a "perpetual strife" can be avoided.67 Out of this reason Rerum novarum recommends the Church as an essential institution to bring human conflicts to an end: "If human society is to be healed, only a return to Christian life and institutions will heal it."68 This claim does not mean that we have to build closed Catholic societies as it was sometimes done in the past or favor any other political versions of Christian theocracy. We need the Church—or maybe similar institutions of other world religions—as an essential and public part of civil society because she is the proper institution able to teach us "to desire the infinite with an infinite desire and the finite with a finite desire."69 Without a community like the Church we would not be able to obey the commandments of the Decalogue.70 Wherever a society can rely on this basal orientation of our passions the economy is a helpful and definitely positive means for our life.71 But the economy turns into a dangerous threat if the hierarchical relationship between means and ends is reversed and the economy becomes an end in itself. Catholic Social Teaching has criticized this reversal as a form of an economism, which does not pay attention to the hierarchy of goods and which subordinates being to having.72 Economism is also prone to envy leading to a world of perpetual warfare.73 Let me conclude with a passage from Pope Paul VI's encyclical Populorum progressio which shows that whenever material growths becomes an end in itself disunity and discord inevitably will arise:
"Increased possession is not the ultimate goal of nations nor of individuals. All growth is ambivalent. It is essential if man is to develop as a man, but in a way it imprisons man if he considers it the supreme good, and it restricts his vision. Then we see hearts harden and minds close, and men no longer gather together in friendship but out of self-interest, which soon leads to oppositions and disunity."74


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1 Cf. G. Schwarz 2000, 12; P. Sloterdijk 2002, 252.

2 F. Hirsch 1976, 20.

3 Cf. W. Benjamin 1996; R. H. Tawney 2000, 286.

4 P. Dumouchel/J.-P. Dupuy 1999.

5 Cf. I. Illich 1982, 125-127; I. Illich 1995, 132f, 137f, 209; H. Achterhuis; N. Luhmann, Wirtschaft 182-184; M. Gronemeyer 2002, 132-137.

6 Cf. R. Haubl 2001, 268-276.

7 I. Kant 1991, 45.

8 Cf. G. F. de la Mora 1987, 76-77.

9 A. Smith 1981, 709-710 (V.i.b).

10 Ibid. 709. Cf. H. Schoeck 1980, 30-31.

11 Cf. R. Haubl 2001, 277-278.

12 According to Smith 1984, 50-51 (I.iii.2.1), the origin of ambition is humanities inclination to sympathize with wealth and power. From it "emulation" arises "which runs through all the different ranks of men" making, for instance, "greatness the object of envy".

13 A. Smith 1984, 181 (IV.i.8).

14 Ibid.

15 A. Smith 1984, 52 (I.iii.2.3), 226 (VI.ii.1.20).

16 According to Smith 1984, 53 (I.iii.2.3), the natural respect for the rich and powerful easily keeps envious passions like resentment at bay: "The strongest motives, the most furious passions, fear, hatred, and resentment, are scarce sufficient to balance this natural disposition to respect them: and their conduct must, either justly or unjustly, have excited the highest degree of all those passions, before the bulk of the people can be brought to oppose them with violence, or to desire to see them either punished or deposed. Even when the people have been brought this length, they are apt to relent every moment, and easily relapse into their habitual state of deference to those whom they have been accustomed to look upon as their natural superiors. They cannot stand the mortification of their monarch. Compassion soon takes the place of resentment, they forget all past provocations, their old principles of loyalty revive, and they run to re-establish the ruined authority of their old masters, with the same violence with which they had opposed it."

17 F. Hirsch 1976, 66. – A. Smith 1984, 57 (I.iii.2.8), gives an example of mimetic rivalry for positional goods between a small group of people of a higher rank: "Place, that great object which divides the wives of aldermen, is the end of half the labours of human life; and is the cause of all the tumult and bustle, all the rapine and injustice, which avarice and ambition have introduced into this world."

18 A. Smith 1984, 184 (IV.i.10).

19 Ibid. 184-185.

20 F. Hirsch 1976, 67.

21 F. Hirsch 1976, 185.

22 Cf. S. Holmes 1995, 86.

23 T. Hobbes 1994, 59.

24 H. M. Enzensberger 1994, 31.

25 B. R. Barber 1995.

26 B. R. Barber 2002. Cf. also Elshtain 2003, 47-48.

27 Cf. S. Tönnies 2002, 67-79.

28 T. Hobbes 1991, 87.

29 Cf. D. Pipes 2001/2002; A. B. Krueger/J. Male…ková 2000; J. B. Elshtain 2002, 118-120.

30 Cf. W. Palaver 2003, 219-221.

31 R. Girard 2001b, 8, 22-25; ibid 2001c.

32 Cf. R. Hesse 2001; N. Bolz 2002, 33f.

33 K. O. Hondrich 2002, 28, 55.

34 R. Girard 1965, 136f. Cf. ibid. 120; A. de Tocqueville 1990, 137f: "When all the privileges of birth and fortune are abolished, when all professions are accessible to all, and a man's own energies may place him at the top of any one of them, an easy and unbound career seems open to his ambition and he will readily persuade himself that he is borne to no common destinies. But this is an erroneous notion, which is corrected by daily experience. The same equality that allows every citizen to conceive these lofty hopes renders all the citizens less able to realize them; it circumscribes their powers on every side, while it gives freer scope to their desires. Not only are they themselves powerless, but they are met at every step by immense obstacles, which they did not first perceive. They have swept away the privileges of some of their fellow creatures which stood in their way, but they have opened the door to universal competition; the barrier has changed its shape rather than its position. When men are nearly alike and all follow the same track, it is very difficult for any one individual to walk quickly and cleave a way through the dense throng that surrounds and presses on him. This constant strife between the inclination springing from the equality of condition and the means it supplies to satisfy them harasses and wearies the mind. ... The desire of equality always becomes more insatiable in proportion as equality is more complete. Among democratic nations, men easily attain a certain equality of condition, but they can never attain as much as they desire."

35 H. M. Enzensberger 1994, 39.

36 Aristotle, Rhetoric, 1387b, 1388a. Cf. W. Palaver 1999, 90-93.

37 W. Law 1728, chap. xviii.

38 R. Girard 1965, 11-14, 119; 1987, 11, 92-93, 306-308; 1991, passim; 2001a, 12-13, 53; 2001b, 22-23.

39 Cf. S. Ostwald 2000.

40 Cf. R. Girard 2001a, 15-16.

41 Cf. R. Girard 1987a, 92-93; 1990; 1994, 70-72; H. Assmann 1996, 283.

42 R. Girard 2001a, 7-9. Cf. S. Hauerwas/W. H. Willimon 1999, 129-139.

43 Cf. S. Hauerwas/W. H. Willimon 1999, 25-39.

44 Augustine de civ. VIII.17.

45 This is the conclusion B. Wannenwetsch draws from Martin Luther's interpretation of the tenth commandment. According to S. Hauerwas/W. H. Willimon 1999, 132, an idolatrous form of desire at the core what the tradition called concupiscence: "Concupiscence names the intensity of our desire, which, when turned away from God, distorts everything we do and do not do."

46 T. Fontane 1998, 376 (chap. 41).

47 T. Fontane 1998, 389-390 (chap. 43): "Das Goldene Kalb anbeten war nicht seine Sache. Daher kam es auch, daß er vor dem, was das Leben so vieler andrer verdirbt und unglücklich macht, bewahrt blieb, vor Neid und bösem Leumund."

48 Cf. R. Girard 1994, 76-77; 1996, 197-198, 215; 1997, 105; 2001a 40, 42, 44-45.

49 Cyprian, Treatise X ("On Jealousy and Envy"): "Thenceforth envy rages on the earth, in that he who is about to perish by jealousy obeys the author of his ruin, imitating the devil in his jealousy; as it is written, 'But through envy of the devil death entered into the world.' Therefore they who are on his side imitate him." – "We ought to remember by what name Christ calls His people, by what title He names His flock. He calls them sheep, that their Christian innocence may be like that of sheep; He calls them lambs, that their simplicity of mind may imitate the simple nature of lambs." Cf. G. F. de la Mora 1987, 41-42.

50 Augustine, De vera religione XLVI.86,243f; De civ. XV.5; ad Gal 52.1; Basil the Great, Sermon on Envy; Cf. G. F. de la Mora 1987, 42-45.

51 Cf. D. S. Long 2000, 235: "What we discover embedded in the Eucharist is a glimpse and foretaste of the ultimate good for God's creation, which is God himself. Such resources are neither scarce nor subject to competition, but everyone can be satisfied and each person's satisfaction only increases that of her neighbor. Christ is inexhaustible. Distribution is made subject only to the condition of one's baptism and one's willingness to repent and seek reconciliation. There need be no poor among us."

52 The Rule of Benedict, chap. 72: "Just as there is an evil zeal of bitterness / which separates from God and leads to hell, / so there is a good zeal / which separates from vices and leads to God / and to life everlasting. / This zeal, therefore, the sisters should practice / with the most fervent love. / Thus they should anticipate one another in honor (Rom. 12:10); / most patiently endure one another's infirmities, / whether of body or of character; / vie in paying obedience one to another – / no one following what she considers useful for herself, / but rather what benefits another – ; / tender the charity of sisterhood chastely; / fear God in love; / love their Abbess with a sincere and humble charity; / prefer nothing whatever to Christ. / And may He bring us all together to life everlasting!"

53 Thomas Aquinas ST Ia IIae Q 28, art 4, ad 2: "Zeal arises from love of good. But through defect of goodness, it happens that certain small goods cannot, in their entirety, be possessed by many at the same time: and from the love of such things arises the zeal of envy. But it does not arise, properly speaking, in the case of those things which, in their entirety, can be possessed by many: for no one envies another the knowledge of truth, which can be known entirely by many; except perhaps one may envy another his superiority in the knowledge of it."

54 Thomas Aquinas ST IIa IIae Q 36, art 2.

55 Thomas Aquinas ST IIa IIae Q 36, art 2, ad 3.

56 R. Girard 1996, 215.

57 Cf. M. Weber 1996; W. Benjamin 1996, 288: "A religion may be discerned in capitalism—that is to say, capitalism serves essentially to allay the same anxieties, torments, and disturbances to which the so-called religions offered answers. The proof of the religious structure of capitalism—not merely, as Weber believes, as a formation conditioned by religion, but as an essentially religious phenomenon—would still lead even today to the folly of an endless universal polemic." On the dependence of the market system on religious bindings, see F. Hirsch 1976, 138-143.

58 A. de Tocqueville 1990, 148.

59 Ibid.

60 Cf. F. Fukuyama's references to Alexandre Kojèves description of the end of history: "The disappearance of Man at the end of History, therefore, is not a cosmic catastrophe: the natural World remains what it has been from all eternity. And therefore, it is not a biological catastrophe either: Man remains alive as animal in harmony with Nature or given Being. What disappears is Man properly so-called—that is, Action negating the given, and Error, or in general, the Subject opposed to the Object." (A. Kojève 158f; cf. F. Fukuyama 1993, 310f) – "If Man becomes an animal again, his arts, his loves, his play must also become purely natural again. Hence it would have to be admitted that after the end of history, men would construct their edifices and works of art as birds built their nests and spiders spin their webs, would perform musical concerts after the fashion of frogs and cicadas, would play like young animals, and would indulge in love like adult beasts." (A. Kojève 159; cf. F. Fukuyama 1993, 387)

61 Cf. F. Fukuyama 1999.

62 T. Hobbes 1991, 46: "Continuall successe in obtaining those things which a man from time to time desireth, that is to say, continuall prospering, is that men call FELICITY; I mean the felicity of this life. For there is no such thing as perpetuall Tranquillity of mind, while we live here; because Life it selfe is but Motion, and can never be without Desire, nor without Feare, no more than without Sense. What kind of Felicity God hath ordained to them that devoutly honour him, a man shall no sooner know, than enjoy; being joyes, that now are as incomprehensible, as the word of Schoole-men, Beatificall Vision, is unintelligible." Cf. E. Voegelin 1987; 1999, 59-72.

63 T. Hobbes 1991, 70: "There is no such Finis ultimus, (utmost ayme,) nor Summum Bonum, (greatest Good,) as is spoken of in the Books of the old Morall Philosophers. Nor can a man any more live, whose Desires are at an end, than he, whose Senses and Imaginations are at a stand. Felicity is a continuall progress of the desire, from one object to another; the attaining of the former, being still but the way to the later."

64 Cf. B. J. Barber 2002.

65 Rerum novarum 21; Centesimus annus 41. Cf. R. H. Tawney 2000, 284.

66 Cf. Rerum novarum 42, Quadragesimo anno 136, Mater et magistra 121, 257, Gaudium et spes 72, EN 32, Laborem exercens 26.1, Sollicitudo rei socialis 26.

67 Rerum novarum 15.

68 Rerum novarum 22. Cf. S. Hauerwas 1995, 126, 132f; D. S. Long 2000, 185f.

69 D. S. Long 2000, 270.

70 S. Hauerwas/W. H. Willimon 1999, 19.

71 Cf. R. H. Tawney 285: "The Christian Church was thought ... to hold by definition a conception distinctively its own. It was therefore committed to the formulation of a social theory, not as a philanthropic gloss upon the main body of its teaching, but as a vital element in a creed concerned with the destiny of men whose character is formed, and whose spiritual potentialities are fostered or starved, by the commerce of the market-place and the institutions of society. Stripped of the eccentricities of period and place, its philosophy had as its center a determination to assert the superiority of moral principles over economic appetites, which have their place, and an important place, in the human scheme, but which, like other natural appetites, when flattered and pampered and overfed, bring ruin to the soul and confusion to society."

72 Redemptor homines 16, Laborem exercens 13, Sollicitudo rei socialis 28, Centesimus annus 36.

73 Catholic Social Teaching rarely addresses the problem of envy directly. The early encyclicals even show a certain anti-socialist bias because envy is only mentioned where socialism is criticized (Rerum novarum 3, 8, 12, Quadragesimo anno 137). The most important passage on envy seeing it as a source for discord and war can be found in the pastoral constitution Gaudium et spes. The deeper causes for discord fomenting war are the "egotistical passions" like envy, distrust and pride (Gaudium et spes 83; cf. 17, 78).


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