Pray all the way to the bank

Merkel and Macron don’t see eye to eye on lending the poorer EU members a helping hand. In fact, it’s the word ‘lending’ that encapsulates their disagreement.

“You say Kartoffel, I say pomme, let’s call the whole thing off.”

According to Merkel, aid to the stragglers should come as loans to be repaid – a version of the wartime Lend-Lease.

Macron, on the other hand, favours a straightforward bailout – a version of the post-war Marshall Plan.

That is, Merkel is prepared to offer bailout grants too, but only if the recipients submit to mandated tax policies, which is to say put paid to what little remains of their sovereignty. Otherwise, it’s a firm nein.

“The countries that are blocking [my proposal],” complained Manny, “are the same ones as ever, the frugals: Germany, the Netherlands, whose deep psychology and political constraints justify very hard positions.”

What interests me here isn’t so much Macron’s generosity as the perceived lack thereof on the part of the so-called ‘frugals’. What exactly is the nature of their frugality?

If Manny weren’t a modern man, he’d use a more precise word: Protestant. For that’s the schismatic form of Christianity predominantly espoused in the countries he finds so uncooperative.

Here he could do worse than reread (read?) Max Weber’s 1905 book The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.

Weber’s analysis hinges on the causative link between the Reformation and capitalism, both its rise and spread. Yet capitalism, narrowly defined as the use of one’s own or borrowed capital to economic ends, had been spreading steadily throughout the Middle Ages – in spite of the variously vigorous resistance on the part of the Church.

I’d suggest that replacing ‘Capitalism’ with ‘Renaissance humanism’ would make the title just as valid. The subsequent argument would revolve around the Reformation being in some important ways a continuation of the Renaissance by other means. But, to make that argument, Weber would have had to delve deep into matters religious, which wasn’t really his forte.

It is, however, a fact that Northern Italy was already in the 14th century the banking centre of Europe. In a critical development, one of the Avignon Popes, John XXII, rejected the Franciscan insistence on the absolute poverty of Jesus and his apostles, thus setting the stage for the ecclesiastical endorsement of wealth.

The most important development came in 1403 when charging interest on loans was ruled legal in Florence. That was the first time neonatal capitalism managed to sweep aside the de jure resistance of the Church in a Christian society.

There is no denying that capitalism benefited from the Reformation, but was it caused by it? The answer is probably no, and Weber tacitly acknowledged as much.

But neither is this a case of a simple coincidence in time. Witness the fact that even in our time, Protestant countries boast a per capita GDP 1.5 times higher than in Catholic nations, three times higher than in Orthodox ones, and five times higher than in Muslim lands – this despite an ocean of petrodollars sloshing underfoot in the largest Orthodox country and quite a few Muslim ones.

Only modern ignoramuses would ignore religion as both a formative factor of national character and its reflection. That most European countries are now secular only masks that link, rather than severing it.

France introduced her laïcité in the same year Weber published his seminal work, and secularism has since become a matter of ideology there, with many Frenchmen openly mocking Christianity.

That’s their business, but the French, including their leader, should be aware of the intellectual cost of secularism. For, even though ideology is a cognate of idea, the two words are more philosophically opposite than related.

If Macron and other EU ideologues didn’t discard religion in their analysis, they’d think twice before shilling for a single state comprising nations of different religious backgrounds and therefore different characters.

Catholicism, Eastern and Greek Orthodoxy, Lutheran and Calvinist Protestantism are all represented among EU members, and the Muslim Bosnia will soon join the fold. Such incidentals may not matter to EU ideologues, but they ignore them at their peril.

It takes someone whose reason is densely clouded by ideology to expect, say, the Greeks, Italians, Germans, Frenchmen, Swedes and Bosnians to homogenise their economic behaviour enough to function successfully under the same economic policies or even principles.

Religion isn’t the only tectonic fault in the EU, but it’s perhaps the deepest. An earthquake is bound to occur sooner or later, and neither a Lend-Lease nor a Marshall Plan will stop it in the long run.

“If you let part of Europe fall, the whole of Europe will fall,” warns Manny, meaning the EU. From his mouth to God’s ear, I say.

1 thought on “Pray all the way to the bank”

  1. “loans to be repaid – a version of the wartime Lend-Lease. ”

    To a certain extent Lend-Lease was repaid by reverse Lend-Lease. Nations providing land during WW2 for American military bases. Providing raw materials for war munitions to be manufactured, etc.

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