The Cause of Empire

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Aggressive foreign policy causes no end of misery. How can we alter the aggressive foreign policy of the U.S.? We need to diagnose its cause before prescribing a cure.

Wilhelm Röpke, in his book, International Order and Economic Integration, makes the case that aggressive foreign policy does not stem, as the Marxists would have it, from capitalism or finance capitalism. He writes:

It is true that in such cases the chain of cause and effect contains economic links, but it ends finally in the field in which, contrary to the materialistic interpretation of history, all decisions take place: the field of politics, power, ideology, psychology, sociology, emotionalism. Everything which at a superficial glance seems to indicate that capitalism is the villain of the piece proves upon more thorough examination to be entirely fallacious. It only proves that, under the present economic system as well as under any other, stupidity, egoism, greed and falsehood can carry on their evil work against peace, as long as reason, public spirit, moderation and truth are not able to keep them under control. Not the imaginary inescapable fatalism of the economic laws of capitalism are to be denounced, but human default.

I agree in part. Röpke is correct to trace empire, based on politics and power, back to the human being. And he is correct to reject market exchange or ownership of capital as causes.

But we need to go further. It will appear to be superficial to trace empire and its wars back to the human being. We wish to change this evil behavior, if we can. To do that, we need to understand its cause or causes, if we can. So we ask: From whence inside the human being does the "evil work against peace" arise? From man’s reason? From his will? From his imagination? From his ego? From his emotions? From his desires? From his heart (his essence)? From all of these? Where shall we turn to find the answer?

Röpke locates the source primarily in reason and ego. But there is far more to evil than "human default" and "stupidity," which encompass human error and human blundering. Röpke comes closer when he speaks of egoism. But mere arrogance, self-interest, and pride still do not fully hit the mark in understanding evil, although egoism as self-worship does. Nor does Röpke hit home in characterizing evil when he speaks of falsehood versus truth, for what he means by falsehood is rather narrow. He means Machiavellian falsehood or intentional lying (akin to fraud and use of force) in the service of gain and advantage. Although Röpke gives us some clues, we need to go further if we are to diagnose evil and prescribe a remedy.

The Holy Bible provides us with insight as to the location of evil. We find clearly stated the prime location of evil in man. "And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually." (Genesis 6:5.) Also: "…and the LORD said in his heart, I will not again curse the ground any more for man’s sake; for the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth;" (Genesis 8:21.) Proverb 12:20 says "Deceit is in the heart of them that imagine evil." Jesus says: "And Jesus knowing their thoughts said, Wherefore think ye evil in your hearts?" (Matthew 9:4) And also: "A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things." (Matthew 12:35.)

According to God’s Word, man’s evil runs deep, as deep as it can go, pervading his very essence. Evil is within man’s heart. The evil is manifested in all the facets of man: his mind, his will, his imagination, his wants, his emotions, and so on, but the source runs deeper than any single one of these. Each of these aspects places specific evils on display, like vanity, pride, selfishness, falsehood, and immoderation. As Jesus put it: "Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit." (Matthew 7:17.) The whole tree is corrupt.

When Röpke speaks of "reason, public spirit, moderation and truth" as keeping "stupidity, egoism, greed and falsehood" "under control," in order to achieve peace, he is very, very far from giving the Biblical view of the matter. In the Biblical diagnosis, the solution cannot be from within man in and of himself via his own self-control because the evil pervades man from top to bottom. A corrupt tree cannot bring forth good fruit, not unless that corruption is alleviated.

The evil of man relates directly to authority and its imposition on other men. But the latter evil relates directly to man’s relationship with God. We are told throughout the Bible that man’s evil, which is his sin, is sin "in the sight of the LORD." This evil provokes God and incurs his wrath. And the reason for this is that the evil came about by the rejection of God. Man through concrete action in the Garden showed his unbelief in God’s instruction and authority. Man made himself the authority and simultaneously rejected the authority of God. The only other possible authority left to man after rejecting God’s authority was himself.

But there are many men on earth. Having rejected God, men surely reject each other as authorities, because men are lesser beings. They are left in the uncomfortable position of seeking a final authority on the earth. Who among them is the ultimate authority? Obviously, from the perspective of the Bible, none of them are. They cannot possibly find a man among themselves who is the ultimate authority. There is little recourse among those who reject God’s authority but to attempt to make themselves the authority. They cannot succeed, but, in reflection of the evil in their hearts, they try. They attempt to dominate one another. In the political realm, gross misuses of the State manifest these attempts.

Empire and war involve extensions of man’s authority via the State. One set of men wishes to rule another set of men. There is a restless search for the authority of some men over other men. And, by the way, those leaders who have a deep need to demonstrate their authority, no matter what their professed relationship is to God, can be the most dangerous.

As areas of human behavior related to empire and war, Röpke mentions "the field of politics, power, ideology, psychology, sociology, emotionalism." To mention too much beclouds the matter. The problem is sin, specifically, evil in the heart brought about by rejection of God. To reject God’s authority is to accept man’s authority. The logical consequence is a struggle to be number one on earth. Aggressive foreign policy quite directly traces back to the rejection of God’s authority.

Man, being the evil creature he is, he also misinterprets God’s Word on behalf of aggressive foreign policy. This problem is a very serious one addressed by a number of LRC columnists such as Bill Barnwell and Laurence M. Vance

We should know what we are up against. The cure for empire and war is by no means simple since it involves a multitude of human hearts and God. And it involves a serious degree of transformation. But there is healing available.

Michael S. Rozeff [send him mail] is a retired Professor of Finance living in East Amherst, New York.

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