The Greeks (Plato and Aristotle representative) saw the well-managed estate – eco-nomos – as producing sustainability and also some surplus, and the purpose, they proposed, was to use the surplus to support the owners’ lesirure time for politics and philosophy. As this perspective and language moved into the early Christian church the estate became the monastery and the christian community, “the eclesia”, given to humanity by god, and surplus, production beyond necessity, was to be used for the expanding population to reach out in prayer and aspiration toward the infinite god, Philosophy was assimilated to theology and politics to the bishops and canon law.
When this synthesis fell apart with the reformation (the decay had already started), what was left was the economy expected to grow infinitely but no longer with a purpose except to feed and pamper the community which had been brought into the state while philosophy and politics had disappeared leaving only the economy and the population.
This sets the condition for post reformation and enlgihtenment West. One can see the essential role that the church period had on what economics became after the Greeks – a coherent approach to the world having absorbed politics and philosophy and leaving us with a license to grow an economy without interference by politics nor philosophy (the state) to meet ever expanding needs and purposes.
This is not stuff we are exposed to in our education. We tend to think of economics as invented by the bankers in Venice and Genoa and made coherent by Adam Smith, but it is the kind of stuff we need more of as we struggle to recreate the politics philosophy and economy of our desperate time. We are taught that the dark ages were somewhere way back there, but in fact may be our own.
A recent book deals with this series of phases from the Greeks,through empire, the church and modern times and is fun to read and full of challenges, with the slightly humorous and provocative title Neoliberalism from Jesus to Foucault. The author is Dotan Leshem currently living in New York. He adds many a new perspective to this period covered in Hannah Arendt’s work which many of you have read.