How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success
How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success
Many books have been written about the success of the West, analyzing why Europe was able to pull ahead of the rest of the world by the end of the Middle Ages. The most common explanations cite the Wests superior geography, commerce, and technology. Completely overlooked is the fact that faith in reason, rooted in Christianitys commitment to rational theology, made all these developments possible. Simply put, the conventional wisdom that Western success depended upon overcoming religious barriers to progress is utter nonsense.
Rodney Stark advances a revolutionary, controversial, and long overdue idea: that Christianity and its related institutions are, in fact, directly responsible for the most significant intellectual, political, scientific, and economic breakthroughs of the past millennium.
In Starks view, what has propelled the West is not the tension between secular and nonsecular society, nor the pitting of science and the humanities against religious belief. Christian theology, Stark asserts, is the very font of reason: While the worlds other great belief systems emphasized mystery, obedience, or introspection, Christianity alone embraced logic and reason as the path toward enlightenment, freedom, and progress. That is what made all the difference.
In explaining the Wests dominance, Stark convincingly debunks long-accepted truths. For instance, by contending that capitalism thrived centuries before there was a Protestant work ethicor even Protestantshe counters the notion that the Protestant work ethic was responsible for kicking capitalism into overdrive. In the fifth century, Stark notes, Saint Augustine celebrated theological and material progress and the institution of exuberant invention. By contrast, long before Augustine, Aristotle had condemned commercial trade as inconsistent with human virtuewhich helps further underscore that Augustines times were not the Dark Ages but the incubator for the Wests future glories.
This is a sweeping, multifaceted survey that takes readers from the Old World to the New, from the past to the present, overturning along the way not only centuries of prejudiced scholarship but the antireligious bias of our own time. The Victory of Reason proves that what we most admire about our worldscientific progress, individual liberty and personal responsibility, the rule of law, free commerceis largely due to Christianity, through which we are all inheritors of this grand tradition.
Table of Contents
Introduction: Reason and Progress
Part I: Foundations
1: Blessings of a Rational Theology
2: Medieval Progress: Technical, Cultural, and Religious
3: Tyranny and the Rebirth of Freedom
Part II: Fulfillment
4: Perfecting Italian Capitalism
5: Capitalism Moves North
6: Catholic Anticapitalism: Spanish and French Despotism
7: Feudalism and Capitalism in the New World
Conclusion: Globalization and Modernity
It is a commonplace to think of Christianity and rationalism as opposite historical and philosophical forces. In this stimulating and provocative study, Stark (The Rise of Christianity) demonstrates that elements within Christianity actually gave rise not only to visions of reason and progress but also to the evolution of capitalism. Stark contends that Christianity is a forward-looking religion, evincing faith in progress and in its followers' abilities to understand God over time. Such a future-based rational theology has encouraged the development of technical and organizational advances, such as the monastic estates and universities of the Middle Ages. Stark contends that these developments transformed medieval political philosophy so that democracy developed and thrived in those states, such as northern Italy, that lacked despots and encouraged moral equality. Stark concludes by maintaining that Christianity continues to spread in places like Africa, China and Latin America because of its faith in progress, its rational theology and its emphasis on moral equality. While some historians are likely to question Stark's conclusions, his deftly researched study will force them to imagine a new explanation for the rise of capitalism in Western society. (Dec.)
At first glance, this book appears to be a retort to geographic theories of societal evolution, of the sort advanced by Jared Diamond's popular Guns, Germs, and Steel. Rather than patterns of weather and agriculture, Stark argues, Europe's primacy in economic, political, and social progress was due to its embrace of Christianity, which opened a space for reason and hence science-driven technology. Emphasizing the connection between medieval scholasticism, with its notion of theological progressthe logical science of thinking one's way closer to Godand Renaissance capitalism, Stark maintains that Christianity alone embraced reason and logic, and this gave Christian regions a tactical advantage in developing commerce. An argument made with unavoidably broad strokes, its actual targets are Max Weber's notion of the Protestant work ethic and the conventional story that religion was a barrier to be overcome en route to progress. At times approaching the invective, its defiant tone will invigorate readers who feel religion's place in the trajectory of world history is under attack. But the theological side of Stark's argumentthat Christianity is fraternally bound to reasonwill challenge the very same readers to reexamine their own relationship with reason.
A tour de force. . . A fun book to read, full of anecdote and incident. . . Delights as well as instructs.
The Wall Street Journal
Provocative. . . [Rodney] Stark is to be commended for celebrating the rational element of the Christian religion and culturea part that deserves celebration and needs to be recovered.
The New York Times Book Review
Terrific. . . Read this book.
New York Post
Rodney Stark is at it again. . . The Victory of Reason is another bold, sharply argued defense of Christian faiths social benefits. It is also an in-you-face challenge to anti-religious assumptions of the modern academy.
All of us can learn much from Mr. Starks work. Secularists, instead of scorning the past, should learn how Christian understanding led to the most significant intellectual, political, scientific, and economic breakthroughs of the past millennium.
Succinct, highly interesting, and very helpful. . . This book offers arresting facts and passion-arousing arguments, but it also, and most dramatically, alters the horizon within which we wrestle with them.
The New Criterion
Every once in a while a book comes along that not only provides new answers but also transforms the old questions. The Victory of Reason is such a book.
The Reverend Richard John Neuhaus, editor-in-chief of First Things and one of the 25 Most Influential Evangelicals in America (Time)
A bracing antidote to the secularist smog that chokes education today.
George Weigel, Ethics and Public Policy Center
Rodney Stark may be the most influential religious researcher of the past hundred years. He has revolutionized contemporary thought about religion and economics, and in this bookhis most provocative yet he makes a compelling case for the claim that we owe our prosperity, freedom, and progress to centuries of faith in one great, loving, rational God. The Victory of Reason is itself a victory of reason in a field long dominated by anti-western, anticapitalist, and antireligious myth. Starks extraordinary scholarship has made it possible to again ask, and perhaps finally answer, some of the most enduring questions about faith and spirituality.
Laurence R. Iannaccone, Director, Institute for the Study of Religion, Economics, and Society; Professor of Economics; Chapman University
Rodney Stark is University Professor of the Social Sciences at Baylor University. He is also the author of The Rise of Christianity and One True God: Historical Consequences of Monotheism. He holds a Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley.