What hath Athens to do with Main Street?  Why should an economic crisis in a small European nation shake up the world?  And can this possibly add up to freedom?

If despite all you know about globalization such questions still simmer, it may simply mean that you have a good memory.

It wasn’t that long ago, after all, that the global market was a more modest force, a power among cultural powers, jostling for space.

What happened?

It was a conquest.  Like any conquest, this one involved the collapse of other kingdoms, independent realms with established, distinct ways of regarding the world and living in it.  Those my age—Gen Xers—and older have memories of these older kingdoms—of practices that came from other precincts, of ideals enlarged by other faiths.

To wit: As a fourth grader I watched the Bicentennial with great fanfare arrive.  Our teacher, Mrs. Reese, in energetic schoolmarm fashion required us to learn the songs of not only our nation but also our state.  In music class the hip young newbie may have had us feeling groovy.  But back in Mrs. Reese’s room we felt patriotism surging.  We learned, at Lafayette Elementary, other songs, older songs, un-charted and commercial free.

During summers my siblings and I would spend a few weeks at my grandparents’ farm.  While my grandfather was at work my grandmother would be in full summertime mode, all day long.  We would pick berries and eat jam, feed chickens and fry eggs, find worms and clean fish, hoe weeds and snip beans.  And with our cousins we would play baseball or shoot BBs or snag bluegills until the fireflies came out.  Then we watched TV (twenty-four square inches of black and white).

My grandparents’ church sometimes scared me, I admit.  It was loud and intense and charged with feeling, with laughter and tears.  My parents’ church, with its kindly humpbacked minister, was warm, mild, and smart—even keeled.  We sang old songs, like “Rock of Ages” and “Amazing Grace.”  A middle aged man named Richard played a beautiful tenor sax.  When at the end of a service we sang “Blessed Be the Ties that Bind,” a warmth came over the assembly that I could feel better than I could understand.  These ties were old—this much I grasped, as I looked up at the adults around me, smiling at the young.  Yet the ties were new, too.  Or, rather, re-newed, for a season at least.

Of course, the market surrounded all of these forms of non-market solidarity, and helped sustain them.  But the market also encircled them, I now see, as that circle grows tighter.  Music classes in schools (where they still offer them) have gone the commercial way, while constant standardized testing—crucial for “keeping up”—has shunted cultural heritage aside.  Like haughty potentates, the corporations that owned the factories like the one at which my grandfather worked have left town; paradoxically, family farms have also gone away.  And church, with its old songs and ties?  For those who yet attend, there’s a lot of muzak, and texts and tweets—bonds of connection, for some; bonds of another sort, for others.

The market has in fact marked our nation’s history from the start.  But it wasn’t always so brazen in manner, so insistent in approach.  It once had to share this world, after all.  But we, for reasons that go to the heart of our common story, have ceded to the market all the space it wants.  Which is all.

And so our spirits shimmer beneath the market’s rule—at least on TV.  We welcome our colonizers on bended knee, however forced for some.  Our children we offer in tribute, for forming,  and, we dare hope, for splendor.

The emperor—we must declare it—has no clothes.  But it’s going to take more than one little boy to take this king down.

Yet if moral nakedness still carries shame, this is a king we must not save but, rather, expose.  And, God help us, depose.  Let freedom ring.

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Eric Miller
Eric Miller is professor of history and the humanities at Geneva College, in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, where he directs the honors program. He is the author of Hope in a Scattering Time: A Life of Christopher Lasch (2010) and Glimpses of Another Land: Political Hopes, Spiritual Longing (2012); he also co-edited Confessing History: Explorations in Christian Faith and the Historian's Vocation (2010). His crucial counterpoints to teaching and writing include family, gardening, and playing guitar. He is currently part of an international team of scholars seeking to understand the rise of evangelical Protestantism in Brazil.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Marx asserted that Hobbes is the father of us all. The Hobbesian state, an abstract corporation with a monopoly on coercion and with the ability to define the limits of its own power is animated by a powerful will, be it the will of a dictator, the will of an oligarchy or the will of a democratic majority manipulated by factions. It began to take form under Cromwell and showed its keen profile in the French Revolution. It was, however, in its guise of nationalism in the 19th century that it began to take form and make its claims through blood and iron. Under Bismark in Germany, it rose to begin the process of sweeping away subsidiarity by fusing the city-states, the principalities and the kingdoms into one. This process in Germany culminate in Hitler’s Germany with Gleichschaltung – all things made equal and the same under one authority. Likewise, in the 19th century, Garibaldi and his fellow travelers would bring through a bloody series of wars, wars against the Church herself, the “unity of Italy, a process which would culminate under Mussolini’s fascism. In America, Lincoln stretched out his hand and in the context and pretext of war destroyed to unions of constitutionally federated republics, namely the United States of America and the Confederate States of America. (It is to be noted that Marx, Lenin and Hitler quoted Lincoln in a positive light. They saw his “good work” as parallel to their own.) He replaced them with a consolidated and centralized Hobbesian state, still playing the false role of a “republic” and trotting out the meaningless Constitution for the gullible to genuflect to much like the factions of the United Kingdom trot out the Queen to begin Parliament. Unlike the nationalist German Empire in its NAZI idiom and the Italian Empire in its Fascist idiom, the American Empire has not been defeated. The founding of the Federal Reserve and the beginning of the income tax set the stage for the American Empire to emancipate itself over time from silver and gold, natural providential restrains on money supply, and to usher in the era of the fiat dollar, later the oil dollar and finally the world’s reserve currency. This this raw material, essentially fiat or counterfeit money, weaponized through the WTO, the World Bank and the IMF, the empire acquired the means to shed its encumbering nationalist skin, like a growing serpent, an become a global Leviathan. With its weaponized currency it can fund hundreds of military basis across the world; it can bribe or threaten world leaders; it can overthrow governments for the most banal of reasons. One example is the IMF. It is a vampire. It tempts hapless countries like Greece to go into debt to fund their local ideologies such as short work weeks, etc. Once the dept cycle has begin, the IMF makes new loans with conditions: sell off the native industries for pennies on the dollar, usually to foreign investors who are cronies of the banks; be sure the big Greek banks are bailed out with the loan because they themselves have secret investors from abroad; and invest in new construction projects which will go to preferred investors and contractors, usually foreigners. It happens and is happening everywhere. This is the global economy, both the instrument and the result of the Global American Empire. Against the Global American Empire stand some stalwart countries, each with its own flaws and problems – the Peoples’ Republic of China and the Russian Federation – along with a small cadre of lesser stars. Behind the Global American Empire, the Leviathan, stands a more powerful principality whose clawed hand and smell of sulfur and be seen and smell if one has that spiritual capacity.

  2. God designed and built His creation on definite physical and moral foundations, but we have all decided to wage war on this Reality. While I believe this dystopia wrought by the corporatists and oligarchs will pass, it won’t do so without pain. In His mercy, I hope and pray it doesn’t last too long!

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