Reviews Of Books -- By: Anonymous

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 15:2 (May 1953)
Article: Reviews Of Books
Author: Anonymous

Reviews Of Books

V.A. Demant: Religion and the Decline of Capitalism. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons. 1952. 204. $3.00.

In 1922, R. H. Tawney delivered the first of the Holland lectures, published as Religion and the Rise of Capitalism, a study of the relationship of theology to social questions in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. In 1949, V. A. Demant delivered the Holland lectures, and, dealing with the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, felt it necessary to analyze the failure of the development traced by Tawney. Religion and the Decline of Capitalism invites comparison with Tawney, and does not suffer thereby.

“Society is always sick, but it is not always mortally sick”, Demant declares (p. 157). The persistent sickness of society due to sin, conflict, and divisions in human aims is normally balanced by a “self-healing principle” which gives it recuperative impulses and powers. When the destructive forces grow more rapidly than those of growth, the society becomes mortally sick. Today, capitalism is on the decline, and capitalist society sick, and four main reasons are given:

  1. the hostility it has been incurring as a result of its own activity;
  2. the decline and disintegration of its institutional framework;
  3. its “parasitism on the non-economic foundations of society”; and
  4. the dissipation or “destruction of the dispositions which impelled it” (p. 180).

Capitalist society has flourished on the basis of its dependence on Christian society and has declined in its independence. “Only when men are settled in some of their relationships are they free to act and be adaptive in others. The economic freedom of capitalism was possible so long as it did not occupy the whole field. And the market economy as a formative influence on society is now in decline because its achievements depended upon its resting on top of a solid layer of non-economic relationships which it proceeded to obliterate” (p. 29).

Capitalism very early began to develop an independent theology, and the Physiocrats virtually equated “Physiocratie with Theocratie”, equated providence with pre-established harmony and laissez-faire, and made the

natural world “the providential link between the Creator and human society”. Capitalism was an aspect of liberalism, in revolt against “the apron strings of mother theology” and insistent in believing in an immanentist sociology. Deism subsequently developed the doctrinal presuppositions (pp. 36–38).

Of especial import is Demant’s delineation of the three axioms behind the liberal doctrine of objective reality, universa...

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